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Brussels, 16 December 1997

Commission presents a proposal for a Directive on the protection of technical inventions (utility models)

The European Commission has adopted, on the initiative of Mario Monti, Commissioner for the Single Market, a proposal for a Directive approximating the legal arrangements for the protection of inventions by utility model. Inventions are currently protected by utility model at national level only, and there are major differences between national arrangements which make it very difficult in practice to enforce this property right across borders. This state of affairs is incompatible with the aims of the single market. Not only does it distort competition, but the resulting lack of transparency does nothing to facilitate the free movement of goods between Member States. The protection would be limited in duration to ten years and would cover new products and processes to the exclusion of, among other things, biological material and chemical substances. The proposal was drawn up following an extensive consultation exercise which the Commission embarked upon in 1995 with all the interests concerned with a view to gauging the need for Community action in this area.

"At a time of rapid growth in innovative activity, characterised as it is by a trend towards small technological advances and by a shortening of product life cycles and times to market, the need has arisen for national laws protecting this type of invention to be harmonised in order to stimulate innovation and ensure the smooth functioning of the single market", commented Mr Monti.

A utility model is a registered industrial property right which confers on its proprietor exclusive protection for a technical invention. It is more flexible and less costly than a patent. Utility models are therefore well suited to serving the needs of firms, especially small and medium-sized ones, active in certain areas of innovation. The current state of affairs is not a satisfactory one, however. Firms or individuals wishing to exploit their inventions in more than one Member State have to familiarise themselves with a multitude of different systems or go to considerable expense in seeking the advice of several experts.

The purpose of the draft Directive is to approximate Member States' laws on utility model protection. Those Member States which do not yet have a system of utility model protection (Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom) would have to introduce one into their domestic law. The harmonisation would be confined, however, to the underlying principles common to most national protection systems.

The measure's scope would encompass both products and processes but would not extend to biological material, which is the subject of a separate proposal for a Directive (see IP/97/1053), chemical or pharmaceutical substances or processes, or computer programs, owing to the specific characteristics of these sectors.

To qualify for protection, the duration of which would be limited to a maximum period of ten years, an invention would have to be new, involve an inventive step and be susceptible of industrial application.

The level of inventiveness required would, however, be specific so as to reflect the specific nature of technical inventions protectable by utility model. A utility model application would give rise to no more than a check to see that the formal requirements for protectability were satisfied, without any examination to establish novelty or inventive step.

Following publication in July 1995 of a Green Paper on utility model protection in the single market (see IP/95/761), the approach most widely favoured was that of a Community initiative in the form of a Directive harmonising national laws . The Green Paper sparked a lively debate among the sectors of business and industry concerned, the Member States and the other Union institutions on the necessity and desirability of a Community initiative in this area. What this consultation exercise revealed was that there was a real economic need for the protection of inventions by utility model.

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