When the patent bar exam was given in written form test takers were permitted to bring in with them any materials they wanted except for old exam questions. The ability to bring practically anything into the examination lead to people tabbing the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures, creating detailed and easy to use outlines, and bringing easy to follow flow charts and tables.
Those days are long gone, for nearly a decade now, but when you do take the examination you will be provided with an electronic copy of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures. Don’t fool yourself though — the fact that this is an “open book” exam does not mean that it is easy or that you will be able to “wing it” and rely on the MPEP as a crutch. Many people have difficulty finishing the exam and it is a recipe for failure to simply plan to rely on the MPEP to get you through the exam. This is particularly true today where much of the examination is based on new material not found in the MPEP and only available in Federal Register Notices.
Still, you absolutely must spend a so at least a part of your study familiarizing yourself with both the MPEP and search techniques and strategies that have a chance of success come exam day. You may only have time to look up information relevant to a handful of questions, but if you do go to the MPEP you want to do so with maximum confidence that the time you spend will produce a successful result.
With this in mind, here are a few MPEP search strategies to use in your practice for the patent registration exam.
MPEP SEARCH STRATEGIES 1 – SEARCH BY CHAPTER
The PDF version of the MPEP will only allow you to search within only 1 chapter at a time. So, if you are looking for a reference in the MPEP using the search feature you are going to need to know what chapter contains the answer. Don’t be discouraged by this limitation. By the time you take your exam you should know the MPEP frontwards and backwards, specifically able to recite which chapter contains which topical information. Thus, being able to search only 1 chapter at a time should be beneficial. Additionally, you would never want to have the MPEP searchable from start to finish. You will notice, if you haven’t already, that the MPEP is extremely redundant. What this means is that if you were to search from start (page 1) to finish (the last page) for virtually any topic, you would find hundreds of references, most of which are not relevant to your immediate needs. By only allowing chapter by chapter searching the Patent Office is actually doing you a favor. Having said this, you do need to know what each chapter generally contains so you don’t have to waste time figuring out which chapter contains the information you are looking for.
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MPEP SEARCH STRATEGIES 2 – STRING SEARCH
The search feature that comes incorporated into the PDF version of the MPEP that you will be given is what is called a string search. What this means is that the results returned will come back with matching strings of text. For example, if you type in “patent” the search will find not only the word “patent”, but the word “patentable”. This is because the first six letters of the word “patentable” are “patent”. This may seem like a silly example, and it probably is. Hopefully by exam time you would not need to look up the word “patent” in the MPEP. Nevertheless, you might be tempted to try and look up “RCE”, the short hand reference of a request for continued examination. This might seem reasonable, at least until you realize that the word “commerce” ends with the letters “rce”. Given that the United States Patent Office is a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, you can imagine how often the word “commerce” appears in the MPEP itself. The point is that you want to be familiar with the quirks associated with using the search feature prior to exam day. The only way to become familiar with the quirks, such as the string search quirk, is to spend some time practicing searching .
MPEP SEARCH STRATEGIES 3 – STRANGE NAMES
Another way to speed up the look-up process is by identifying strange names of inventors or particularly well defined technologies. Now, don’t panic, the exam itself is content neutral with respect to technology. Just because the question starts to mention some specific technology does not mean you need to understand the technology. In all likelihood the question is just giving you background information to create a context, and the question will deal with some procedural matter, such as when you need to file an appeal brief or how long you have to respond to some action of the examiner. Nevertheless, those who write the questions for this exam sometimes lift questions straight out of the MPEP, without changing the names of the parties or the name of the technology. Thus, by putting in an inventor name or the name of a specific invention into the MPEP search field you might find yourself taken to the exact spot in the MPEP where the question writer lifted the question, which means an easy point for you. Of course, you can’t do this if you are not intimately familiar with the MPEP and know what each chapter deals with from a topical standpoint.
MPEP SEARCH STRATEGIES 4 – CHAPTER TABLE OF CONTENTS
During the exam you should have no need to go to the MPEP Index. The Index to the MPEP should be considered completely useless for you on exam day. As already mentioned, and you know or will soon learn, the MPEP is extremely redundant. If you go looking for information about RCEs you will find that there are dozens of references to RCEs in the Index. When you need to go at about an average of 3 minutes per question you simply do not have time to hunt and hope as you weave your way through dozens of possible places where you might find the answer you are seeking. Thus, you need a different strategy. That strategy needs to leverage the table of contents for each chapter of the MPEP. If you know the question is dealing with examination of an application the answer will almost certainly be found in Chapter 700, for example. Don’t go to the Index, but rather open Chapter 700 and scroll down the table of contents. The headings are quite descriptive. Even if you get a nuanced, fact based question about examination you should be able to find the spot in the MPEP that addresses the critical point within the question. Give it a try during your study.
Finally, a word of caution. Please do not assume that this or any other article is a substitute for taking a patent bar review course or engaging in extensive study. The patent exam is difficult and not something that you can simply show up, take and pass. The strategies discussed here, when coupled with a serious and comprehensive study regime, may give you an extra point or two on exam day.
If you are interested in taking the patent bar exam please see the General Requirements Bulletin from the USPTO. For more information on the patent bar exam please see:
- Reflections of the Patent Bar Exam
- Reflections on Taking the Patent Bar Exam
- Everything You Need to Know About the Patent Bar Exam
- Patent Bar Exam: MPEP Search Strategies
- Beware Patent Bar Exam Study Advice
- USPTO to Update Patent Registration Exam April 2013
- Patent Bar Blues: New Rules, Old MPEP Make for Difficult Study
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- USPTO Changes Format and Links to MPEP
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