A utility model is a specific type of intellectual property right. It is available in various countries and just like a patent, protects the invention, but it has a shorter lifespan than a patent and doesn’t have all the requirements needed for a patent. Examples of countries where the utility model is recognised include that of Japan, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Spain, Australia, and Germany.
In essence, the utility model is a monopoly that the inventor receives for a specific period in which the inventor then teaches the invention to another person with normal skills in the particular art. The teaching is of such a nature that the person taught will be able to perform the invention.
Utility models are often referred to as innovative patents or minor patents. Most of the patent offices don’t do in-depth examinations of applications and simply require that the utility models meet the formal requirements. In most instances, the same items or processes not patentable will also not qualify as utility models.
One of the main requirements is that the utility model must be new and thus not part of prior art. This means that the utility model may not have been published or used before application for such. In Spain, however, absolute novelty is not required. In South Africa the functional design can fit the category of utility model and it has a lifespan of ten years.
Utility models are often used for mechanical innovations and are well suited for small and medium businesses which want to make minor changes to existing inventions. Known by different names in the various countries utility models are more affordable than patents, easier to register, and have shorter lifespan periods.