Similar to patents, utility models protect new technical inventions through granting a limited exclusive right to prevent others from commercially exploiting the protected inventions without consents of the right holders. In order to obtain protection, an application must be filed, and a utility model must be granted. They are sometimes referred to as “short-term patents”, “utility innovations” or “innovation patents”. It is not easy to define a utility model, as it varies from one country to another. In general, utility models are considered particularly suited for protecting inventions that make small improvements to, and adaptations of, existing products or that have a short commercial life. Utility model systems are often used by local inventors.
An owner of a utility model obtains the exclusive right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting the utility model for a limited period, often 6 to 10 years from the filing date. In other words, in general, utility model protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the utility model owner's consent. The above right is territorial, i.e. the right can be enforced only within the country in which a utility model is granted.
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The main differences between utility models and patents are the following:
- The requirements for acquiring utility models are less stringent than for patents. While the requirement of “novelty” is always to be met, albeit some countries only on a locallevel, that of “inventive step” or “non-obviousness” may be loweror 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 6 and 15 years).
- In most countries, patent offices do not examine utility model applications as to substance prior to registration. This means that the registration process is often simpler and faster, sometimes taking six months or less.
- Fees for obtaining and maintaining utility models are cheaper.
- In some countries, utility model protection can only be obtained for certain fields of technology, such as mechanical devices and apparatus, and only for products but not for processes.