A utility model is a patent-like intellectual property right to protect inventions. American, Canadian, and British inventors and companies are often unaware that such rights exist, given that their laws do not allow for registration of these rights. Utility models are generally cheaper to obtain and maintain, have a shorter term (generally 6 to 15 years), shorter grant lag, and less stringent patentability requirements, as compared to invention patents.

Utility models in China have become much more desirable over recent years. The term of protection for utility models in China is 10 years. In China, utility models are typically screened only for informalities and are issued without substantive examination.

Utility models can thus be particularly useful for inventions with marginal inventiveness, where invention patents may be unavailable or difficult to obtain, where there is no significant budget for a Chinese invention patent application, or where IP rights need to be quickly obtained.

Inventors and applicants need not choose one or the other right away. In China, utility model and invention patent applications can be filed for the same invention. Taking such an approach can be advantageous where the applicant needs to quickly obtain patent rights and the applicant wishes to subject the application to substantive examination (so as to ultimately create a more enforceable legal right).

When both utility model and invention patent applications are filed for the same invention, the utility model application usually proceeds to grant first. When the invention patent application later proceeds to grant, the utility model must be abandoned. The invention patent thus continues to protect the claimed invention for a period of up to 20 years from the date of the original patent application filing.

In practice, filing both a utility model patent application and an invention patent application the applicant wishes to enter China through the Paris convention will cause the double-patenting policy under Article 9 of the Chinese Patent Law to apply. Both applications should be filed on the same date.

Caution should be taken if entering China through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), where the double-patenting policy does not apply. In such situations, simultaneous utility model and invention patent applications may not be pursued. The applicant thus must choose one according to Rule 104 of the Implementing Regulations of the Chinese Patent Law.