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Utility model

A utility model is a form of intellectual property rights that protects technical inventions.

A utility model is a form of intellectual property right that protects technical inventions. One of the purposes of the utility model is to provide protection for technical inventions that do not meet the higher inventiveness requirements for patent protection. The advantages of a utility model compared to a patent are its faster processing time and lower costs.

However, a utility model is not as strong form of a protection as a patent. Its period of protection is shorter, and its scope may be more limited. Additionally, invalidating a utility model can be easier than revoking a patent because the novelty and inventiveness of a utility model are not examined by the office.

When is a utility model a sensible choice?

  • The invention is simple and may not meet all the requirements for a patent.
  • Protection is needed quickly, for example, in conjunction with market entry.
  • The inventor or company has limited resources and wants to obtain protection cost-effectively.
  • The invention is such that it may become technologically obsolete by the end of a long patent protection period.

Mika Laajalahti

VP of Berggren Patents, European Patent Attorney

What to consider?

A utility model is a form of intellectual property right that resembles a patent, but often has a shorter duration of protection and less stringent requirements. It is also known as a 'small patent' or 'model patent' in some countries. A utility model protects technical innovations and inventions like a patent, but they are often less complex.

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What can be protected by a utility model?

A utility model can be used to protect an invention which is new, industrially applicable and clearly different from relevant prior inventions.

For example, a utility model can be used to protect a product or a device but not a method or a novel use of a known product or device.

A utility model provides its proprietor with the right to prohibit others from commercially exploiting the object protected by the utility model.

The maximum term of protection for a utility model is 10 years. A utility model is a regional right, so that a utility model valid in Finland provides protection in Finland only.

Advantages of a utility model

In particular, a utility model is useful for inventions which are slight improvements to prior art and do not meet the higher requirements of inventive step set for patent protection.

An application for a utility model normally proceeds to registration within a few months, whereas the processing of a patent application may typically take about 1 to 3 years.

A utility model is a good option for companies wanting to protect their inventions at lower application costs and/or to obtain protection within the shortest feasible timespan.

Invalidation of a utility model

Anyone may attempt to invalidate a registered utility model by lodging an invalidation claim against it. The invalidation claim can also be lodged after the expiry of the registration.

In many cases, the basis for the invalidation claim is lack of novelty or inventive step of the invention, because these are not examined during the registration process of a utility model application. As a result, utility models which could be relatively easily invalidated may end up in the register. On the other hand, invalidation may turn out to be challenging in some cases, because the inventive step of the utility a model merely requires a clear difference to the known technique.

Patent or utility model?

When considering the appropriate form of protection, you should weigh your own business needs. If the invention only relates to a method or a use, protection by a utility model is not feasible.

If it is uncertain whether the requirement of inventive step for patent protection is met, and/or if protection should be obtained promptly, then a utility model is a good option. Particularly in a situation where protection should be obtained as soon as possible, it may be reasonable to file a patent application and a utility model application at the same time.

When selecting the form of protection, you should be aware that a patent application can be converted to a utility model application at a later stage, but conversion the other way around is not possible. However, similarly to a patent application, priority can be claimed from a utility model application for patent or utility model applications relating to the same invention.

A utility model may be a more preferred option for inventions whose profits would not be sufficient to cover the costs of patenting. A utility model registration may also provide a cost-effective way to publish an invention, particularly if the invention is of secondary importance for the business or if the inventive step is limited.

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