In some countries, inventions may also
be protected by utility models, which are also known as "petty patents" or
"utility innovations." The conditions for the registration of utility models are
usually less stringent (since no inventive step or only a less significant
inventive step is required), the procedure for registration is faster (since
novelty and inventive step are usually not examined prior to registration) and
acquisition and maintenance fees are generally lower than those applicable to
patents. Applications are usually to be filed with the
national IP office.
What is a Utility
A utility model is an exclusive right
granted for an invention, which allows the right holder to prevent others from
commercially using the protected invention, without his authorization, for a
limited period of time. In its basic definition, which may vary from one country
(where such protection is available) to another, a utility model is similar to a
patent. In fact, utility models are sometimes referred to as “petty patents” or
The main differences between utility
models and patents are the following:
The requirements for acquiring a
utility model are less stringent than for patents. While the requirement of
"novelty" is always to be met, that of "inventive step" or "non-obviousness"
may be much lower or absent altogether. In practice, protection for utility
models is often sought for innovations of a rather incremental character
which may not meet the patentability criteria.
The term of protection for utility
models is shorter than for patents and varies from country to country
(usually between 7 and 10 years without the possibility of extension or
In most countries where utility
model protection is available, patent offices do not examine applications as
to substance prior to registration. This means that the registration process
is often significantly simpler and faster, taking, on average, six months.
Utility models are much cheaper to obtain and to maintain (see “How
Can Your SME Acquire and Maintain IP Protection?”).
In some countries, utility model
protection can only be obtained for certain fields of technology and only
for products but not for processes.
Utility models are considered
particularly suited for SMEs that make “minor” improvements to , and adaptations
of, existing products. Utility models are primarily used for mechanical
The “Innovation patent,” recently
launched in Australia, was introduced as a result of extensive research into the
needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, with the aim of providing a
“low-cost entry point into the intellectual property system.” See link to press
Where can Utility Models be Acquired?
Currently, a small but significant number of countries provide utility model
protection. These include: Australia, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belarus,
Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark,
Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala,
Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mexico,
Netherlands, OAPI, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea,
Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Tajikistan, Trinidad &
Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.
In countries where the national
legislation does not provide for utility model protection, SMEs may either apply
for a patent (see “How Can Your SME
Acquire and Maintain Intellectual Property Rights”) or keep the
invention as a trade secret (see “Protecting
the Trade Secrets of Your SME”).
An overview of utility models in the
European context and on utility models as an alternative to patents is provided
by the website of the
IPR-Helpdesk of the European Commission.