Utility Models

What is a utility model?
A utility model is a specific type of intellectual property right, often described as being somewhere between a patent (which protects the underlying inventive concept) and a registered design (which protects the appearance of a product).

Available in various countries, it provides a monopoly right for your invention that is generally more affordable, easier to register, and has a shorter lifespan than a patent, while offering greater scope of protection than a registered design.

Also known as a ‘petty patent’, ‘minor patent’, or ‘innovative patent’, the utility model was designed primarily to respond to the needs of innovators.

Why file an application for a utility model?

Obtaining protection via a utility model can be less expensive than going the patent route. The requirements for grant of a utility model are usually less stringent as there is often no or a reduced inventive step requirement.

Further, utility models are typically not subjected to the same examination process as a patent application, which reduces the time to grant as well as the prosecution costs in getting the application to grant.

What are the disadvantages of a utility model?

Compared to a patent, the scope of protection is reduced and the term is shorter.

When should I make use of a utility model?
Utility models can be effective in protecting inventions where there is a risk that the invention may not meet the higher inventiveness requirement of a patent.
What are my options if a utility model is not available as a means of protection?

Some African countries, such as South Africa, do not make provision for utility models. However, it may make provision for the filing of a functional design registration. This is akin to a utility model in that it protects the features of the design that are necessitated by the function that the article is to perform.

Where can I file an application for a utility model?

Although not as widespread as patents, utility model protection may be obtained in several countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Utility model protection may be obtained in Africa through two regional organisations, ARIPO and OAPI.

What is the term of a utility model?

A utility model typically has a term of 7-10 years, depending on the laws of the country.

What are the registration requirements?

The invention generally has to be novel and include some form of inventive or innovative step. In some jurisdictions absolute novelty is not required and utility model protection can be obtained if the invention is novel locally.

What is the process of obtaining utility model protection?

An application for a utility model can be filed either directly or based on an earlier patent or design application.

In many jurisdictions, including the African regional systems ARIPO and OAPI, a utility model may be based on an earlier PCT application.

The decision to make use of utility model protection does not need to be taken at the outset and the process may simply be started by filing a provisional patent application.

Which African countries are members of OAPI and which African countries are members of ARIPO?
There are 17 member countries of OAPI: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

And there are 19 member countries of ARIPO: Botswana, Eswatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, the Sudan, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe

What rights does a utility model afford me?

The enforceable rights are similar to those of a patent and allow you to exclude others from using your invention commercially. This includes the right to charge royalties for the use of your invention.

en_ZAEnglish