[From the web-site of JPO]

Procedures for Obtaining a Utility Model

Technological breakthroughs and increased pace of technical innovation in recent years have meant that a large number of utility models are worked from almost immediately after the filing of an application for registration. As the lifecycle of products decreases, the demand for earlier protection for rights relating to such innovations has become progressively more noticeable. In order to respond to this need for earlier protection, the law was revised on January 1, 1994 to dispense with substantive examination of whether the application has novelty and involves an inventive step, and grants a right on the basis of a judgment of whether the application satisfies a series of requirements (referred to as the basic requirements) judged to be necessary for registration. The flowchart below shows the process from application to publication.

Procedures for Obtaining a Utility Model Right
(1) Application
Patent applications do not necessarily require the attachment of drawings; but in the case of utility model applications, their attachment is compulsory. In addition to the application fee, registration fee for the first three years must be paid at the time of filing.
(2) Examination
In contrast to patent applications, there is no system of request for examination for applications for utility model registration. Having no substantive examination of whether the application is novel and involves an inventive step, the examination will check simply the basic requirements shown below in addition to the conventional formality check.
1. The device relates to the shape or construction of articles or a 
combination of articles.
2. The claimed device is not liable to contravene public order and morality.
3. The application satisfies the requirements for the format of claim as well as the unity of application.
4. All the necessary items are described in the specifications and drawings, and these descriptions are not conspicuously unclear. Additionally, where the application does not meet either the formality requirements or the basic requirements, an invitation to amend will be issued. If there is no response to this invitation, the application will be dismissed.
(3) Registration
For all applications which have passed the formality check as well as satisfying the basic requirements, the registration of the utility model right will be instituted without going through a substantive examination. However, as mentioned above, the registration fee for the first to third years must be paid at the time of filing.
(4) Publication of Utility Model Gazette
When the utility model right has been registered, the JPO publishes the details of the claimed device in the official gazette to lay it open to the public as the first publication.
(5) Request for Registrability Report
A registrability report, prepared by an examiner on the basis of a search of prior art documents, enables an objective judgment to be made about the validity of registered utility model right. It can be requested by any person at any time after the filing of the application. Since utility model rights are registered without a substantive examination, it is essential for applicant to make a decision of whether or not to file an application on the basis of a thorough prior art search.