Korea's Focus on Protecting Intellectual Property Wise Policy

Article excerpt

In today's global business world, no nation can successfully participate in the international market without an appreciation and understanding of the value of intellectual property (IP) rights. Equally important, such rights and the enforcement thereof must be adequate to encourage foreign enterprises to invest and do business in Korea. Because such rights are commonly misunderstood or confused for one another, a brief introduction of those rights would be helpful.

One type of intellectual property right is a patent, which is a grant of the exclusive rights to a new and useful apparatus, product, method, etc. There are also trademark rights, which protect valuable brand names, logos, and other types of means that identify the source of a product or service.

The next most commonly referred to right is a copyright, which gives certain exclusive rights to the author of, for example, music, art, literature, software, etc. Although there are certainly other types of IP rights, these three are the most well known.

These rights touch upon or affect almost every aspect of commercial business. For example, every consumer good that utilizes even basic technology most likely incorporates and is licensed under one or more patents. Turning to trademarks, every product or service is presented to consumers with a particular brand name or logo that allows the consumer to identify the source of the product or service. Further, someone holds the copyright to every computer program, music album, artwork, television broadcast and movie that is available in the market.

From the breadth of what is covered by IP property rights, it is easy to see that these rights are an inseparable and extremely valuable aspect of any successful business. Because these rights have a significant economic value, consideration of these rights often plays a key role in major business decisions, such as whether to invest or commence operations in a particular country.

With that in mind, while Korea has always been respected for its remarkable economic success, Korea has had a somewhat unfavorable reputation in regards to the protection of IP rights, particularly those held by foreign companies.

In fact, until 1996, Korea had been categorized as a ``priority watch list'' country, reflecting an international concern that Korea's IP laws and the enforcement thereof were generally not adequate. For the past two years, however, Korea has been upgraded to ``watch list'' status. This recent change is an indication that the international community is taking notice of Korea's focus on enhancing its IP system.

Korea's gained respect in the international IP community is well deserved. Recognizing the importance of an effective IP system for its economy and international reputation, every branch of the Korean government has demonstrated its commitment to the development and protection of IP rights.

The Korean legislature made significant revisions to Korea's IP laws in 1998 to afford better protection of intellectual property rights, without prejudice to foreign companies. One, for example, is a revision to the Korean trademark law that now allows a party to oppose the registration of a trademark that is confusing similar to a trademark that is already widely known in Korea or internationally. …