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A utility model, just like a patent, is an exclusive right granted by the government for technical products. The protection of a utility model is on the whole granted for technical products such as tools, machinery or parts thereof. A utility model may in some cases be granted for chemical compositions. Note: a utility model should not be confused with design protection or a design.
Unlike the case with patents, a utility model is usually granted without any intrinsic technical investigation of the application (i.e. description, figures and claims).
The requirements that are set to a utility model are in some cases less strict than those applied for patents. In the case of a utility model, for instance, being new is usually sufficient while the inventive step (level of inventiveness) is less relevant. Also, novelty requirements may be different to those set for patents. For example, in Germany a valid Gebrauchsmuster can be obtained if it is submitted within six months from making public the own publication or selling a product. Nevertheless, utility models are not granted the same level of protection as patents. And quite often protection is offered for a shorter period of time, for instance 10 years instead of 20 which is usually the case for patents.
A utility model is usually published two to three months from submitting the application, compared to 18 months in the case of a patent. Protection of utility models is not possible in all countries. Protection is for instance possible in Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Taiwan. Protection of utility models is not possible in the Netherlands, despite the fact that a national Dutch patent usually provides the same fast protection.
Patent applications and utility model applications are not mutually exclusive. Example: a patent application could in case of a rejection due to an insufficient level of inventiveness be converted into a utility model application. Vice versa a valid patent application can be based on a utility model application. This might involve legal snags, which is why we strongly recommend consulting a patent attorney at all times.
Requesting the protection of a utility model is recommended in case you are having doubts about the level of inventiveness, if you require protection