Regional Patent Examination Training program - IP Australia

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     IP Australia is the Australian Government agency that administers intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation relating to patents, trademarks, designs and plant breeder's rights. As the global economy moves from a manufacturing to a knowledge base, IP becomes central to the growth of individual countries’ wealth. One of the barriers to investment for companies in developing countries is the lack of protection of their intellectual capital.

    Often there are inconsistencies in the decisions made by Patent offices in different countries and this adds cost and complexity to the process for applicants. The key to consistency and quality is the harmonisation of Patent Examiners’ skills and knowledge.

    While many developed countries including Australia routinely train people from ASEAN countries to become patent examiners. Developing the level of competency required of an Australian patent examiner has traditionally taken between six months and two years, through a mixture of face-to-face and workplace training. Short-term face-to-face programs have been expensive in terms of travel cost and trainers’ time and the outcomes have generally been average.

    The Regional Patent Examination Training program (RPET), offers long-term training and mentoring to Patent Examiners from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam ,Thailand, Kenya and the African Regional Intellectual Property Office through a blend of workplace learning and assessment, virtual classrooms, facilitated mentoring, self-paced work and social learning over a two-year period.

  • Stage 1 - Designing the Blueprint

    Problem: A patent examiner requires high-order skills in evaluation and analysis, and expert knowledge of emerging new technologies. Their training as scientists and engineers typically has sharpened their technical and analytical skills, but the patent examination process often requires making judgements about ambiguous issues that their technical training has not prepared them for. The training course covers complex legal material that includes case law, legislation and international treaties. The primary mode of content delivery is a combination of lectures and assignments.

    IP Australia had a clear idea that a sophisticated blended-learning approach would offer a solution (they had some previous experience with self-paced learning in areas such as orientation and compliance training) but did not have a clear vision of how to transform their face-to-face program into a blended-learning program. The learning strategies for the problem required a more sophisticated approach than most eLearning courses deliver.

    With the Australian Institute of Commercialisation, Sprout Labs developed a 97-page detailed Blueprint for the program.

    During a series of collaborative workshops with IP Australia stakeholders, Sprout Labs developed a phased approach: two phases focusing on skills development and two on supporting and developing workplace performance.

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    The skills development stages (A and B) are based on the instructional design approach of worked examples, plus virtual classroom, discussions and coaching. A worked example is a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or solve a problem[1]. Reviews of multiple research studies show clearly that worked examples can be effective[2]. In the early activities video-based explanations provide expert mental models to explain the steps of a solution to novice trainees. Often blended learning programs are complex to document. The Learning Design Map below shows part of the RPET model in a learning design map. The RPET program is built around a series of instructional templates. The fully worked example is one the templates that is used is start of the program.

    [1]Sweller, J. (2006). The worked example effect and human cognition. Learning and Instruction, 16(2) 165–169.

    [2]Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86.

  • The RPET program gives trainees the chance to practise and explore in a safe environment the complex decision-making skills needed for patent examination. As trainees progress through the course, scaffolding is gradually reduced and the examples become progressively more open, with less commentary and guidance.

    Catering for the needs of ASEAN learners in the workplace
    Our research into the learning style of learners from ASEAN countries compared with Australian learners revealed a need to carefully consider the mode of content delivery. As a result we incorporated a number of features into the program:

    • interactive activities that allow the learners to practise skills without losing face
    • flexible resources that can be accessed from desktops and mobile devices
    • carefully scripted video to aid people for whom English is a second language
    • a high level of one-on-one trainer support and coaching.
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  • Stage 2 Building the program

    The timeframe for build project three months over summer to build 46 units. The program used to take 6 months of face to face training time.


    Agile phased approaches to building the resource
    We used an agile phased approach that focused on the first 14 units that were critical to the launch. Working in a consortium of small eLearning companies (Sprout Labs, Learning Plan and GippsTAFE) meant we could be responsive, flexible and scalable. We focused on active risk management and identifying root causes for issues and problems, working with the client to resolve them (for example, a lack of IP Australia staff because of holidays). This all occurred in the PRINCE2 project environment.



  • Online - Worked examples

    The Worked Examples provide the trainee the chance to practice in a safe environment without “losing face”.

    As trainees progress through the course, scaffolding is gradually reduced and the examples become progressively more open, with less commentary.

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    Mobile and Online (ePub) - Handbook

    The handbook provides introductions to legal concepts in a format that is both cross platform and available offline.

    The use of video explanations complete with closed captions and replay on demand, aid learners from non-english speaking backgrounds.

  • Virtual classrooms - group based

    Virtual Classrooms for discussing more complex issues. These nurture the community of learners, providing a powerful and ongoing support for workplace change.

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    Discussion boards

    Discussion boards are used for debatable topics that require the trainee to reflect on challenging problems.

  • Virtual classrooms - one-to-one

    Weekly virtual mentoring provides a powerful and personalised learning experience similar to an Examiner being trained at IP Australia.

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  • Face to Face - 2 weeks

    The face to face stage of RPET is used for training on skills for team-based search and is a critical element in building the rapport necessary for a vibrant community.

    The blended support provided for the portfolio development phase and to support learning transfer includes:

    Face to face - Supervisors orientation visit

    The trainees' workplace supervisors from their local office are provided with a one week face to face orientation.

    The supervisor involvement aids in the transfer of learning into new workplace practices for the offices. 

    Virtual classrooms and Discussion boards

    Communities of Practice (CoP) involving trainees, supervisors and trainers

    The CoP is a platform for the involvement by all stakeholders and is a focal point for continuous improvement in examination practice. 

    Virtual classrooms - one-to-one

    During the portfolio development phase the online mentoring sessions continue 

    Workplace activities

    The trainees develop a portfolio of evidence of examination reports that meets IP Australia’s quality benchmarks.

  • A trainee’s experience of one of the worked examples

    The trainee is presented with patent documents with numerous hotspots and icons which provide access to extensive text- and video-based explanations, which appear as overlays over the main document. After the first couple of worked examples the trainees are guided to make decisions, for example using interactive decision grids to compare multiple patents. The integration of these thinking tools into the learning process enables them later in the activities to choose the correct sections for interactive reports. In some stages of the course, activities include interactive report writing, using branching scenarios to simulate the responses likely to be put forward by an attorney.

    Sprout Labs our Learning Content Management System Glasshouse for this project . Glasshouse allow Sprout Labs to rapidly develop the RPET project for IP Australia, as follows reasons.

    • We developed custom templates that enabled simple structured form-based authoring.
    • Multiple, distributed developers and subject matter experts then were able to work on learning objects simultaneously through Glasshouse. because it’s a cloud based system.
    • The simple HTML-based authoring offered by Glasshouse (similar to Microsoft Word) meant that IP Australia staff could quickly be trained to change and update the content.
    • Glasshouse meets the Australian Government requirement the all web material meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0.
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  • Assessment design

    As part of the build stage the Sprout Labs Consortium developed an assessment framework that would meet Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) Quality Standards. This includes assessment tools and an assessment rubric that shows the trainer and trainees the skills that need to be demonstrated at the end of each stage.

    Evaluation of the program

    IP Australia and organisations that have funded the program need to know that their investment has been worthwhile, and how to continuously improve the program.

    As part of the build stage of the project the Sprout Labs Consortium designed an evaluation plan; and supported IP Australia to implement the plan and to provide advice for continuous improvement based on the plan. Kirkpatrick’s “four levels of learning evaluation” [3] system is being applied to evaluate the objectives of the program. Some of the ways results are being measured are:

    • benchmarking of the examination practice of the home office against IP Australia Quality Assurance levels at the start and end of the program
    • benchmarking of IP Australia usage of eLearning using the Toward Maturity benchmark.

    The integrated evaluation plan gives IP Australia a valid and reliable measurement of the success of the program and evidence that informs continuous improvement of the program.

    [3]Kirckpatrick, Donald. Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. Berrett-Koehler Store, 1998.

  • Stage 3 Online facilitation skills for the trainers and implement support.

    The trainers working on the RPET program are new trainers – using virtual classrooms and text-based discussion is new for them.

    Before the trainers commenced delivery of the program GippsTAFE customised and ran an online facilitation course for them, and since the beginning of the program they have undergone weekly mentoring sessions. The Sprout Labs Consortium provided ongoing support for the program including monthly face-to-face workshops, troubleshooting and assisting with the evaluation of the program.

    The RPET trainers are now competent online facilitators; one trainer recently moved to another area of IP Australia and has been able to upskill a new trainer in online facilitation skills. The RPET trainers are now leading internal change around teaching and learning.

    Some of the outcomes.


    • The program won a Gold LearnX award for blended learning in 2013
    • At the end of the first phase the trainees are all making satisfactory progress towards competency at Australian quality levels.
    • The program is being adapted by number of the participating offices.
    • IP Australia has trouble recruiting scientists and engineers to be patent examiners, for two main reasons:
      • Training is provided only in Canberra. Once a trainee has completed their training they can work from anywhere in Australia but they are often not able to move to Canberra to complete the training.
      • Training and recruitment is done in blocks and often suitable candidates find other positions before training programs can commence.

    Now, IP Australia has seen how eLearning can increase the flexibility and effectiveness of external training and is planning to use the same approach with their internal programs.