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 "innovation patents."
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 renewal).
- 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 innovations.
The "Innovation patent," recently launched in Australia, was introduced as a result of extensive research into the needs of small and medium-sized enteprises, with the aim of providing a "low-cost entry point into the intellectual property system." See link to press release in IP Australia.
Only a small but significant number of countries and regions provide the option of utility model protection.