There are many countries around the world that
have a system in place for protecting minor inventions, such as Germany,
Australia, Japan and South Korea.
China has implemented this type of system via utility model patents. The Chinese Utility Model is generally meant to protect simpler improvements such as new apparatus, shapes or structures (processes and compositions of matter are excluded), but utility model patents can actually be used broadly by companies because they tend to be faster, easier and less expensive to obtain, while providing many of the same benefits and features as invention patents. However, unlike Chinese invention patents which can last for 20 years from the filing date, utility model patents have only a 10 year term of protection.
Chinese Utility Models can provide a wide variety of benefits, including:
- Faster registration: There is no substantive examination process when applying for the patent, meaning the registration of a utility model patent can be completed within six to 12 months, compared to the two to five years it can take for an invention patent to be issued. This is ideal for products that would quickly go to market.
- Perfect for products with a short lifespan: Manufacturers who offer wide ranges of products with short life cycles would do well to look into Chinese utility model patents, because these products are often only incrementally improved over their previous versions and because they typically have a shorter time before they hit the market.
- Less expensive: Chinese utility model patents are significantly cheaper than invention patents, both in terms of how much it costs to apply for them and how much they cost to renew and maintain.
- Quick enforcement: Because the registration process for a Chinese utility model patent is sped up over a standard invention patent, you are also able to get prompter enforcement against infringement, which is especially critical if you have an upcoming product launch or have a business in an industry with a product line that is constantly evolving.
- Protections against invalidation: It tends to be more difficult to invalidate a Chinese utility model patent, because there is a lower inventiveness requirement for the patent to be granted. Lower requirements for the level of invention means lower chances of invalidation over the prior art.
- Dual filing: One can file an invention patent application and a utility model patent application at the same time if they wish, for the same subject. The utility model patent will be processed much more quickly, and in this case serves as a temporary patent while waiting on approval for the invention patent. This means the patent owner gets to take advantage of quick issuance of a utility model patent while potentially taking advantage of the longer term protection of an invention patent.
To learn more about the advantages and challenges associated with investing in a patent portfolio in China, contact a skilled patent attorney at TIPS Group.