IP Management:

IP Guide for SMEs

IP Guide for Small- and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)

Some Common Features of Procedures for the Protection of Industrial Designs


By World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)


In some countries, inventions may also be protected by utility models, which are also known as "petty patents" or "utility innovations." The conditions for the registration of utility models are usually less stringent (since no inventive step or only a less significant inventive step is required), the procedure for registration is faster (since novelty and inventive step are usually not examined prior to registration) and acquisition and maintenance fees are generally lower than those applicable to patents. Applications are usually to be filed with the national IP office.

What is a Utility Model?

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 enterprises, with the aim of providing a “low-cost entry point into the intellectual property system.” See link to press release in IP Australia


    Where can Utility Models be Acquired?

    Currently, a small but significant number of countries provide utility model protection. These include: Australia, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, OAPI, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Tajikistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.

    In countries where the national legislation does not provide for utility model protection, SMEs may either apply for a patent (see “How Can Your SME Acquire and Maintain Intellectual Property Rights”) or keep the invention as a trade secret (see “Protecting the Trade Secrets of Your SME”).

    An overview of utility models in the European context and on utility models as an alternative to patents is provided by the website of the IPR-Helpdesk of the European Commission.