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 name||Total active utility models in China||Total active utility models in China - 2020|
|State Grid Corporation||59,288||6,691|
|China Petrochemical Corporation||23,545||2,340|
|Gree Electric Appliances||23,281||5,639|
|China Metallurgical Group Corporation||18,544||3,722|
|China Construction Engineering Corp||17,964||6,022|
|Beijing Automotive Group Co, Ltd||13,779||1,387|
|China Railway Construction Corporation Group||12,883||3,638|
|Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (Group)||11,392||1,720|
|Guangdong Power Grid Company||11,327||3,643|
|China National Petroleum Corporation||11,020||2,913|
|China CRRC Group Co, Ltd||10,808||1,452|
|China Southern Power Grid Co, Ltd||10,237||3,265|
|China Railway Hi-Tech Industry Corporation Limited||9,309||2,831|
|Power Construction Corporation of China||9,235||2,573|
|Shanghai Li Hung Enterprise Management Co, Ltd||8,339||2,427|
|China Communications Construction Company Limited||8,132||2,582|
|Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Ltd||7,763||1,554|
|Haier Group Corporation||7,553||2,669|