Utility Models work similarly to Patents in protecting new technological inventions, and offer exclusive rights for a limited period of time to stop unauthorised third parties from using the protected inventions for commercial gain. Utility Models are also known as “utility innovations”, “short-term Patents”, “second-class Patents”, and “innovation Patents.”
Utility Models are often seen to be especially well suited for protecting inventions making minor modifications to and adaptations of existing items or that have a brief commercial life. Local inventors frequently employ Utility Model systems since their inventions may sometimes not meet the criteria for patentability in their respective jurisdictions.
For a brief period, often 6 to 15 years after the filing date, the owner of a Utility Model is granted the sole authority to forbid or restrict others from commercially exploiting the Utility Model. To put it another way, Utility Model protection generally means that the invention cannot be manufactured or used, or sold for a profit by others without the permission of the owner. Utility Model rights are territorial in nature, which means that the owner can enforce his/her right only in the nation where the Utility Model has been granted.
Utility Models differ from Patents in various aspects, the primary one being the requirement or threshold of “non-obviousness”, which is comparatively lower in Utility Models than Patents. Utility Models are usually sought after for inventions that modifications or improvements to a pre-existing invention, and such improved inventions, of a more utilitarian characteristic, may not meet the Patentability criteria. The invention must be new, and must comply with the domestic requirements and formalities. Processes, methods, chemical substances, plants and animals are usually excluded from the Utility Model protection. Another difference is that while a Patent is granted for a standardised period of 20 years in most countries, Utility Models are granted for significantly shorter periods of time, ranging anywhere between 6 to 15 years.
It is pertinent to note that Western countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada do not recognise the Utility Model. The Utility Model is not protected by the TRIPS Agreement either, which is considered to be the most comprehensive international agreement for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights. However, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) offers protection to Utility Models.
Major countries that offer protection to Utility Models include Australia, China, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Spain and Russia. The requirements of all these nations are different, as is the term of protection.
India, notably, does not provide any such protections as of now. The Patent Act, 1970 lays down a stern threshold and requirement for non-obviousness under Section 2 (ja) and it is this provision that primarily bars the registration of Utility Models in India.
The views are that of author’s own and not necessarily the views of IPTSE Academy. This blog is a platform for academic discussions and hence authors have been given flexibility to convey their thought process.
Student, Faculty of Law
University of Delhi