25 Mar
2021

Utility models

In China, utility model patents are granted without the need for a strict and substantive examination, with shorter grant times compared to invention patent applications. In addition, the patentability requirement for a utility model application is lower than for an invention patent application. When it comes to infringement, Chinese patent law does not differentiate between a utility model patent and an invention patent. Moreover, China – unlike other countries – has no restrictions on the enforcement of utility model patents.

One reason for the proliferation of utility model filings is the ‘dual application’ strategy – applicants can simultaneously apply for a utility model and an invention patent covering the same innovation. The utility model provides a quick route to protection, but if the invention patent later issues, the owner must abandon one of the two rights to avoid double patenting. Recent CNIPA practice has been to postpone the examination of invention patents for which a same-day utility model application was filed, which could reduce the appeal of this strategy.

Utility model applications are a point of focus in CNIPA’s drive to increase patent quality, and while filing numbers remain strong, the rate at which the office grants utility models has recently declined.

Points to consider when choosing which option to go for include the fact that utility model patents have a lifetime of 10 years from the date of filing, as opposed to 20 years for an invention patent. Further, utility model patents are applicable only for the shape or structure of a product – not methods or processes.

The top 20 of utility patent owners features an array of state-backed entities such as State Grid China and China Petrochemical Corporation. The list of energy and heavy industry companies is broken up by home appliance manufacturers Midea and Haier, while French appliance maker Groupe SEB is the only foreign company in the top 20.

Table 1. Top 20 largest owners of utility models

Company nameTotal active utility models in ChinaTotal active utility models in China - 2020
State Grid Corporation59,2886,691
Midea33,8793,952
China Petrochemical Corporation23,5452,340
Gree Electric Appliances23,2815,639
China Metallurgical Group Corporation18,5443,722
China Construction Engineering Corp17,9646,022
Beijing Automotive Group Co, Ltd13,7791,387
China Railway Construction Corporation Group12,8833,638
Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (Group)11,3921,720
Guangdong Power Grid Company11,3273,643
China National Petroleum Corporation11,0202,913
China CRRC Group Co, Ltd10,8081,452
China Southern Power Grid Co, Ltd10,2373,265
Groupe SEB9,7712,532
China Railway Hi-Tech Industry Corporation Limited9,3092,831
Power Construction Corporation of China9,2352,573
Shanghai Li Hung Enterprise Management Co, Ltd8,3392,427
China Communications Construction Company Limited8,1322,582
Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Ltd7,7631,554
Haier Group Corporation7,5532,669