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What is the difference between a patent and a utility model?

Law 11/1986 establishes that “Utility Models can protect inventions that are novel and imply inventive steps and that consist of giving an object a configuration, structure or build from which considerable practical advantage can be gained for its use or manufacture”.

Although the requirements for acquiring them are similar, they are less stringent for utility models, so these are used to protect inventions with a lower inventive threshold than patents. In practice, utility model protection is used for lesser innovations that perhaps do not meet patentability criteria.

In most countries where utility model protection is available, patent offices do not examine the background to applications prior to registration. This means that the registration process is often significantly simpler and faster and on average takes about six months.

The duration of the protection for utility models is shorter than that for patents and varies from country to country. In Spain a utility model has a duration of 10 years compared to 20 years for a patent.

The simplicity of the process and the shorter duration mean that obtaining and maintaining utility models is cheaper.

Utility models are considered particularly suitable for SMEs that make "lesser" improvements to existing products or that adapt these products.

In general utility models are improvements to appliances or tools which are already known, in other words, mechanical inventions.

But it is important to emphasise that the Patent Act 11/1986 expressly states that chemical products, foodstuffs and procedures cannot be protected by utility models. For example, a new type of anti-fungal paint cannot be protected as a utility model, but the brush used to paint it can be.

However, from 1 April 2017 when the new Patent Act 24/2015 of 24 July enters into force, only inventions referring to procedures and those that relate to biological material and pharmaceutical substances and compositions will be excluded from utility model protection.

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