Continuing competence is a process by which an attorney reflects on their own practice and professional development, and determines what additional continuing competence activities are necessary, over and above the normal work and professional commitments of practitioners, to develop their skills, knowledge and professional standards in areas relevant to their area of practice. 

The idea is not to set minimum hours requirements or mandatory activities, but to allow the registered patent or trade mark attorney to identify areas they want to develop or refresh their knowledge in, so that they keep themselves up to date and are able to maintain the highest standards of professional practice.  This might change from year to year depending on the role of the attorney, their seniority, any changes in their practice (e.g. moving from in-house to a private practice role or taking on management responsibilities), developments in law and procedure, or the requirements of their employer or clients.  Continuing competence focuses on the outcomes of the development activities identified, and not the number of hours spent doing a particular activity.

Not all continuing competence activities will be planned, and it will occasionally be the case that an attorney has developed skills or undertaken learning in an area that they hadn’t identified as being required.  These activities should also be recorded and the attorney can reflect on the outcomes for their practice in the same way as if the activity was identified and planned for in advance.  We would however expect that attorneys will regularly identify learning opportunities in advance by reflecting on their practice and taking steps to obtain the knowledge or experience required.  This ‘critical appraisal’ step in the continuing competence process is as important as bridging the knowledge gap.

Even under the old system of recording 16 hours’ of CPD activities per year, most attorneys would have gone through the process of identifying ways to improve their practice and undertaking learning activities to achieve this.  What IPReg now requires attorneys to do is to record the process of doing this so that there is evidence that this continuing competence process is undertaken.  Having evidence of a strong, diverse and skilled profession gives the public assurance that by instructing an IPReg regulated attorney, they will receive the highest standard of professional service and therefore uphold the reputation of the professions.

There is no minimum number of development areas that need to be identified or activities that need to be undertaken to address identified learning needs within a practice year.  What is important is that the attorney continuously critically assesses their skills and knowledge and identifies areas for development or improvement to maintain their competence, planning for how to bridge any gaps.  IPReg expects that at some points in an attorney’s career they will identify more learning needs than at other points.  Some learning needs will require an attorney to undertake a number of different activities before the attorney feels confident the learning gap has been addressed.  Others might only require the reading of an article or attendance at a webinar.  The attorney’s focus should be on continuous self-reflection and the outcome of the learning, rather than the number of activities undertaken or the time spent doing so.