Attorney-at-Law Michael Horak, graduate engineer (Electrical Engineering), LL.M. (European Law)
 


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What is a utility model?

A utility model is a registered right which confers on its proprietor exclusive protection for an invention, in a similar manner to a patent. In fact, utility models are sometimes referred to as "petty patents" or "innovation patents." In general, as with a patent, to be protected by a utility model, an invention must be new, involve an inventive step, and lend itself to industrial application. A utility model right can be obtained for example for electronic circuits, machines, chemical products, foodstuffs and pharmaceutical products.

What are the main differences between utility models and patents?

A utility model is an unsearched and unexamined intellectual property right, i.e. novelty and inventive step are usually not examined prior to registration. Moreover, the level of inventiveness required is generally lower than that for a patent.

The term of protection for utility models is shorter than for patents (a maximum of 10 years). Furthermore, utility models are much cheaper to obtain and maintain and the registration process is significantly simpler and faster since patent offices do not examine applications as to substance prior to registration. The state of art in respect to utility models is restricted as compared with the state of art in respect of patents.

What is the term of protection for utility models?

The maximum term of protection of utility models is 10 years provided that the utility model is maintained, i.e. the three renewal fees are paid to the Patent and Trademark Office.

What territorial protection does a utility model offer?

There is presently neither a world-wide nor a Community-wide utility model (since April 2003, however, there has been a Community design providing for a single Community design registration).

Not all countries and regions provide the option of utility model protection. For example, the UK and the Netherlands do not presently have a utility model system. In 2001, however, the European Commission and the European Parliament discussed an EC Directive that would harmonise the existing utility model systems.

Can an invention be made known to the public?

A valid German patent can generally not be obtained if the invention has been made known to the public, even by the inventor himself. As far as utility models are concerned, though, an invention may be disclosed under certain conditions and only by the inventor himself before the application is made (a so called novelty period of grace of 6 months).

How to obtain a utility model?

German utility models are obtained by filing an application for a utility model to the German Patent Office. There is a form available from the German Patent and Trademark Office (http://dpma.de). Apart from this form, which includes an application, so-called claims, a description and a summary in German should be handed in. For the purpose of a better description, drawings are usually included. When filing an application, which will be scanned by the Patent Office, you should pay attention to a number of formal requirements, e.g. that the description, the claims and the summary each start with a special form and should be marked with an appropriate title. Moreover, there is almost a patent language of its own, in which certain expressions are used for structuring the text, signalling consequences etc.: the patent claims often include the expression “characterised by…” followed by the description of the actual invention, whereas the state of technology is delineated prior to this including references to existing patents. The description is usually introduced with the expression “the invention concerns” and then the generic term of the main patent claim is described. This is followed by the description of the state of technology, possibly including references to existing patents. After the basic description of the state of technology, the disadvantages are presented. Then, the expression “the task of the invention is …” introduces the description of the task, presenting the solution and its advantages. This description of the main claim is followed by the descriptions of the subordinate claims, introduced by the expression “… is a special type of implementation of …” Finally, a sample implementation is explained in detail by means of drawings.

When defining the claims, and especially the main claim, the wording is very important. Basically, a general description is preferred, in order to prevent competitors from avoiding an infringement of a utility model by merely changing minor points. On the other hand, the wording of claims must not be too general as there is a risk that they might be ineffective, because such a claim usually does not only contain the description of the invention but also elements of state-of-the-art technology.

What is the procedure of granting a utility model?

On filing, an application is checked for obvious formal faults, e.g. if documents are lacking, etc. After that, according to the type of application, a research or examination procedure is started. In the research procedure the relevant documents are determined and sorted out, this does not, however, influence the protective right itself, since patent offices do not examine applications as to substance prior to registration.

The examination procedure ends when a test certificate is issued, or possibly with the refusal to grant a utility model. In case of granting a utility model, a utility model is published in the patent journal and entered in the registry of utility models.

How can action be taken against a utility model – opposition proceedings?

Contrary to patents, there are no time-limited opposition proceedings in respect of utility models. Everyone can, however, oppose a utility model by filing a nullity suit. In the examination proceedings, which follow such a suit, novelty and inventive step are examined.

What do we need to register your invention?

Usually we need an outline, a description and possibly a model. In some cases, we need further details which we cannot state specifically since they depend on the complexity of the given object.

In the initial phase, in which we plan further proceedings, we only need general information on the area in question (electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, etc.) so that our expert in charge can contact you and settle further details with you, including an estimation of costs.

 

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