Some countries have a form of patent protection for inventions which do not qualify for regular patent protection. This type of patent—generally called a utility model, and sometimes known as a petty patent—has a lower standard of patentability than regular patents. Utility models, in most applicable countries, must relate to apparatus and not to methods, and generally have a term of 10 years.
While the United States does provide for utility model protection, many countries have such protection, including Australia, Germany, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and other countries in Europe, South America and Africa. Since the patentability standard for utility models is lower than for regular patents, utility model protection can often be obtained for incremental or small improvements where regular patent protection is not available. Therefore, utility models present options for some level of patent protection rather than no patent protection at all.
In many countries with such protection, a utility model application can be filed after a regular patent application has been rejected or even after such an application has lapsed. A regular patent application can often be converted to a utility model application, to provide an avenue for protection where regular patent protection appears doubtful. In some countries, both regular and utility model patent applications can be filed concurrently to provide a hedge that some patent coverage will more likely be achieved.
Many countries have no substantive examination of utility model applications and thus utility model patents will be granted so long as the formalities of the application are met, including payment of applicable filing fees. Where applicable, a benefit of utility models is the availability of a grace period (generally six months) in which to file for utility model protection after public use of an invention outside of the home country. Such earlier use will normally bar regular patent protection.
Thus, utility models can provide opportunities for some level of patent protection in instances where a regular patent is not achievable.