Summer 2011: The PLI Approach to the New Patent Bar Exam

By Gene Quinn
May 13, 2011

John White has taught over 50% of the patent bar how to pass the exam.

And now a message from the shameless commerce division, brought to you by the #1 Patent Bar Review Course in the Nation — the PLI Patent Bar Review Course.  PLI is the major sponsor of and this patent bar review course is the one I have taught for the past 11 years.

Our busy Summer Tour 2011 kicked off in New York City on May 11, 2011.  Our next stop will be San Francisco, California from June 22-26, 2011.  But for the moment John White and I are presently in New York City teaching aspiring patent attorneys and patent agents how to pass the newly revamped patent bar examination.  The test has been revised by the United States Patent and Trademark Office effective April 12, 2011, and now tests Edition 8, Revision 8 of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures, better known as the MPEP.  In addition to testing the most current revision of the MPEP, the test also integrates the Bilski Guidelines, the KSR Guidelines and the very new 112 Guidelines, all of which are yet to officially make it into a version of the MPEP.  John and I have created all new materials and have completely revised the course, making it better than ever.

It has always been my belief that the PLI course is the best, and now I think there is absolutely no doubt.  Yes, there are some competitors out there but how many other courses have two faculty members that are practicing patent attorneys and law professors?  John and I both have a private practice and we have made legal education an important part of our careers.  We are even patent attorneys, which might sound like an odd thing to tout but there are actually courses out there that don’t have patent attorneys developing the course and creating materials.  The patent bar exam is hard enough as it is, the rules of patent practice are almost ridiculously archaic and you think you can take a patent bar course taught by someone who hasn’t ever even passed the exam let alone represented anyone in real life?  Yeah, right.  Think again.

There is actually a course that touts the fact that their course was not created by a patent attorney or patent agent.  Their advertising says, in part,  “our team of course developers, who sit for the exam on a regular basis…”  Really?  In order for that to be true that would mean that the course developers are not patent attorney or patent agents because once you are a patent attorney or patent agent you can’t sit for the registration examination.  You see, the patent bar exam is a REGISTRATION exam.  Once you are registered you can’t sit for the patent bar exam.  So good luck using a course that was developed by those who are completely unfamiliar with the rules and how they manifest in real life.  That hardly seems like a successful strategy to pass the exam if you ask me.

This same course also proclaims that they guarantee that 90% of the questions they provide students will be exactly identical to the questions written by the Patent Office.  I guess that is why they allow developers who are not patent attorneys or patent agents to create the course; namely so they can take the exam time after time and fail the exam and time after time, yet trying to memorize the questions and answers.  But is someone who is not a patent attorney or patent agent likely to be able to correctly memorize the text of questions with all the nuances and subtleties presented?  This is an exam where one word in the question or one word in the answer choice can make all the difference in the world.  Without a greater understanding of the context of patent practice how can you understand those subtleties, capture them and convey them to students so they have actionable, useful and correct information?  It would seem virtually impossible for someone who has never practiced and only has an academic understanding of the rules to create materials that adequately explore practice nuances and even more unlikely that questions could be memorized word for word.

Wouldn’t it be better to actually learn the laws, rules AND how to pass the exam from experienced patent attorneys?  Wouldn’t it be better to have a course that presents all of the information you need, explains how it fits together and prepares you for any eventuality rather than relying on the pipe-dream of getting the exam questions in advance?  What if the Patent Office decides to write new questions, which they do from time to time?  If you were not taught the intricacies of the law and rules and prepared for any eventuality then good luck to you!

Mark Dighton (patent bar administrator) and John White answering student questions, NY, May 2011.

This same course also says as part of its marketing that PLI doesn’t offer expert tutoring, which is just bizarre.  Are they saying that John and I are not experts? This claim seems to go well beyond puffery and is factually incorrect.

One of the great things about taking our live course is that students get to interact with John and I throughout the course.  John and I are at every location nationwide, and we field questions before the session starts in the morning, during breaks between sessions, over lunch, and after the scheduled activities are over for the day.  After our live course, or at any time during a home study course, students are able to either pick up the phone and call or send in questions via e-mail.  There is no limit to the number of questions students can ask, and John White personally handles all questions.  John has been teaching patent bar review courses for 25 years and has taught over 50% of the practicing patent bar.  So I guess if John and I taking whatever time is necessary in live courses to explain concepts and unlimited question asking via phone or e-mail is “no expert tutoring” then we are guilty.  Of course, the take-away message here is that you can’t believe what competitors say about PLI because it is hogwash.  We teach more people who take the exam than any other course for a reason, and we have the reputation as the number 1 course in the nation for a reason.

Not satisfied with just being the best we have updated and modified our course over and above just bringing it up to date with the newly tested materials.  We have put our homestudy course online so that it can be accessed anywhere from any computer, and anyone who purchases a live course receives access to our homestudy course online.

With respect to the new material, I personally wrote new questions that are exam level difficulty, which are included in PatWare, our software the mimics the patent bar exam.  Truthfully, the vast majority of the questions written for the KSR Guidelines, Bilski Guidelines and 112 Guidelines are more difficult than what you will experience on the patent bar exam.  We have heard from students who have successfully passed the new exam that our textual materials and those new questions were over-kill compared to what is tested.  That was, of course, the objective.  While our course is approachable by even those with no patent experience, we ramp you up to a level greater than exam difficulty, which helps prepare students for any eventuality on exam day.  Students who have passed to a person have praised our approach to the newly testable material.

John and I will be teaching live courses at the following locations this summer, and will be joined by Professor Margo Bagley (University of Virginia Law) at our San Francisco location.

Hopefully we will see you at one of our Summer Tour stops for the PLI Patent Bar Review.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 8 Comments comments.

  1. T.W. Saur May 13, 2011 12:19 pm


    I believe the course(s) that advertise that they have a “team of course developers, who sit for the exam on a regular basis…” hire folks with so-called photographic memory to sit for and NOT pass the exam on purpose to bring back the information of what is on the exam which is then used to develop their test preparation materials.

    Not legal advice, MHO, YMMV, etc.

    Tom S.

  2. Gene Quinn May 13, 2011 1:33 pm

    Thanks Tom.

    I still question why anyone would want to take a course developed by those who are not patent attorneys even if they have a photographic memory. It also strikes me as nearly unethical for a would be attorney to take the exam having previous access to the exam questions. Of course, your mileage may vary.


  3. Anon May 13, 2011 1:51 pm

    It also strikes me as nearly unethical for a would be attorney to take the exam having previous access to the exam questions

    I know of exactly zero new attorneys with a registration number that has not made extensive use of “previous access to the exam questions.”

    Need I remind you that the Office itself provided a bank of previous exams with questions and answers?

  4. Gene Quinn May 13, 2011 3:11 pm


    I have been teaching patent bar review courses for 11 years, so you need to remind me of nothing. I actually know what I am saying.

    I do probably need to remind you, however, that the Patent Office hasn’t released any new exam questions for nearly 8 years. The last questions released were from the October 2003 patent bar examination. I may also need to remind you that even when the exam was given in paper and you were allowed to bring in materials with you to refer to during the exam you were never allowed to bring in old exam questions or answers.

    Clearly the Patent Bar Exam has always incorporated at least some previously asked questions, even when delivered once or twice a year in written form prior to 2003. There were always new questions written, however. What this review course is doing is not presenting the questions the Patent Office has gone public with, but rather they are trying to provide the exam to their students prior to it being administered. If this is allowable with respect to those questions no published by the Patent Office then the exam is really meaningless.

    So it turns on this. It is not unethical to rely on old exam questions that the Patent Office has released, but it seems no different than stealing the exam prior to administration to rely on unreleased, verbatim questions obtained through the use of those with photographic memories who continue to take the test for the purpose of failing and providing another unreleased exam questions.

    I also continue to question how smart it is to rely on a patent bar review course developed by those who are not patent attorneys. That means the materials are prepared by those who have never passed the exam and, more importantly, who have never practiced. Given the complexity of the laws and rules it seems foolish to believe that anyone who has never practiced could appreciate (and then communicate to students) nuances never having engaged in real life representation.


  5. Anon May 13, 2011 6:05 pm


    I agree with the subsequent distinction that you make – those items made public are fair game (as I posted) and those items expressly not made public are not fair game (your point).

    A win-win.

    (8 years already? – I am getting old too fast).

  6. PS DIP May 14, 2011 9:26 am

    Why doesn’t the PTO require CLEs for agents? Like anon above, I passed my patent bar back in relative antiquity and things have changed since then. Yet I can still represent folks with my very out of date knowledge (I choose not to because I’m not a complete idiot).

    It’s quite a bit of work to keep up to date with changes to prosecution practice (both the law and best practices) and agents have no external impetus to attend attorney CLE courses. Agents working under attorney supervision within a firm or company receive trickle down knowledge, but many hang their own shingle as a lower priced alternative to a firm. Who is opposed to CLEs for agents and preventing this from being required? Are all those former examiners that powerful a lobbying force?

    Re: PLI – When are you coming to DC so I can send my newest employee since I refuse to send them to a BAR review course associated with a certain PTO contracted PCT search firm…

  7. Gene Quinn May 14, 2011 12:21 pm

    PS DIP-

    The PTO tried a few years ago to implement a CLE requirement and that fell flat. The patent bar protested to an unprecedented degree and efforts became derailed. Perhaps they will come back at some point in the future, but I don’t have any good information to share at this point.

    As for when we will be in DC. We were actually talking about that just the other day. In the past we have always been in either DC or the Arlington/Alexandria area early in January. That is tentatively when we will be back there this year, but I floated an idea about moving that course up to late October or early November, which among other things is under consideration. I suspect that in the not too distant future we will be announcing more courses beyond September 2011. We are always in Chicago during the spring break week for John Marshall (our host location in Chicago) and I know we have mid-May booked to be back in New York City, and we are always back at John Marshall in Chicago in August right after the Loyola job fair. The other locations are more flexible. I will be sure to announce the additional dates for live locations here on IPWatchdog as they are confirmed.

    Thanks for the interest in our course.


  8. john white May 14, 2011 6:26 pm


    The point you make about copying questions verbatum cannot be overstated.. 1st) what you learn by recognizing copied questions and their answers is exactly that (ie, how to recognize a copied quesiton!), you learn nothing of what the exam is intended to elicit. The object of the exam and the criteria for sitting is whether you can provide a service of value to the public. Recognizing copied questions cannot determine your ability to do anything but that. 2nd) the absolute throw-your-backside-into-the-street offense in the past history of the exam was to show up with old exam questions. It was a violation of the rules and a violation of ethics, a twoofer.

    I expect and hope the PTO will ask some questions of these course developers once they track them down. It seems the essence of unethical conduct to take an exam to purposefully fail and learn the content. Bar review lawsuits have been filed over this very issue.

    In the PLI course I use post exam de-briefs to make sure our materials track the emphasis on the exam in terms of content. That is, how many Chapter 2100, PCT, Appeal, etc, and how well did you feel prepared. I can then increase/decrease emphasis and adjust focus as we go along. Inasmuch as I once upon a time wrote exam questtions, I can write samples that have a real and relevant feel.

    Good article (it has my photo in it after all), John