Revised guidelines for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) issued on 28 November 2012 by the Professional Standards Board for Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys (and soon to appear on the Board's web site) require registered practitioners to undertake a minimum of one hour of ethics or professional conduct CPE in each year. Currently, the minimum total CPE requirement is 10 hours for practitioners registered as either patent attorneys or trade marks attorneys, and 15 hours for practitioners registered as both.
While one hour per year may not seem like much, this is a significant step for the profession, both practically and symbolically.
Part of the background to the new guideline is a recent decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal, which found a senior Australian patent practitioner (now retired) guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct, for failing to resolve a conflict of interest between two clients of his Adelaide firm, both of which had developed directly competing inventions. We reported on this decision back in April this year (see Senior Patent Attorney Found Guilty of ‘Unsatisfactory Conduct’).
One consequence of the Tribunal's decision was to turn a spotlight on the lack of agreement amongst patent and trade marks attorneys in Australia as to exactly how and when conflicts arise, and how they should be identified and resolved. The Professional Standards Board provided evidence of one senior member of the profession who testified to his opinion that the practitioner's firm was clearly in a conflict situation at least from the time that one of the clients discovered, and complained about, the firm’s acting for the other client in August 2007. However, two other senior members of the profession provided completely contrary evidence on behalf of the practitioner!