The “utility model” is an Intellectual Property (IP) right for protecting technical inventions which exists in some countries, like Germany, Austria, France, China, and Japan, but not in other countries, such as the US, United Kingdom, Switzerland, or Australia. It is similar to a patent right but is often used for less important inventions as the official fees are cheaper and in most countries the application for utility model protection is registered without any search or examination. The term “utility model” should not be confused with a “utility patent” – the name for regular patents for technical invention used primarily in the US.
A utility model registration gives the owner generally the same rights as a patent application, but for a shorter amount of time. The validity of the utility model depends on the country but varies between six years and ten years. The owner has the exclusive right to use, to manufacture, to sell, or to license the claimed subject-matter.
In some countries, the utility model can be registered for the same subject-matter as patents. Other countries, like Germany, restrict their validity to a more limited set of inventions.
The potential for utility models is often underestimated. Since the rights are dependent on the country of filing and there is little harmonization, detailed advice should be taken. Please feel free to get in touch if you would like more details.
Philipp Bauer, Dr. Robert Harrison (Patentanwalt)