A utility model is a registered right that gives the holder exclusive use of a technical invention. The right is given in exchange for public disclosure of the workings of the invention and is granted for a limited period. In 1997, the European Commission proposed the harmonisation of laws on utility models across EU countries. However, this has been abandoned as no agreement could be found. Nevertheless, the Commission continues to monitor the economic relevance and impact of utility model legislation.
Utility models provide fast and low-cost protection for technical inventions since they are usually granted without substantive examination. For this reason, they are more accessible to individual innovators or small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than patents, to which they are similar in their principle. In some countries, utility models may be referred to as 'petty patents' or 'innovation patents'.
In countries where utility model protection is available, it is generally intended for the protection of minor or incremental innovations, frequently for mechanical or electrical devices.
In contrast to trade mark and design protection, there is no EU-wide utility model protection.
In 1997, following several consultations, the Commission presented a proposal for a Directive on the protection of utility models. The proposal was updated in 1999 but work on the proposal was suspended in March 2000 due to difficulties in reaching an agreement. Priority was given to a Community patent. The Commission finally withdrew the proposal in 2006.
While there is no EU legislation related to the protection of utility models, the following EU legislation on enforcement of intellectual property rights also applies to the enforcement of national utility models in EU countries:
In 2013, a study was commissioned on the economic impact of utility model legislation in selected EU countries. The aim was to obtain updated information on the legal frameworks related to utility models or information on the availability of other instruments related to the protection of incremental innovation where specific utility model protection was absent.