South Korea: Patenting a food-related invention in Korea
Managing IP is part of the Delinian Group, Delinian Limited, 4 Bouverie Street, London, EC4Y 8AX, Registered in England & Wales, Company number 00954730
Copyright © Delinian Limited and its affiliated companies 2024

Accessibility | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Modern Slavery Statement

South Korea: Patenting a food-related invention in Korea

Sponsored by


Many food products contain known ingredients, rather than novel ingredients, as essential components. Such food products are usually a result of combining components in a special ratio to achieve a particular flavour, taste, effect, etc.

Claim format

Inventions for food products are commonly drafted as method or composition claims to secure a patent in Korea. For example, a method of enhancing the flavour of a food product by uniformly mixing substance A with sodium glutamate, and a food composition for lowering blood glucose level comprising substance A as an active ingredient.

Natural products per se are not patentable because they are already known in the art and thus lack novelty. However, if one natural product shows a unique function or effect, a "use invention" for the natural product may be permitted as a patent as long as it satisfies the patentability requirements.

When one drafts a patent specification and claims for food-related inventions, the following should be kept in mind.

Description in the specification and claims

In the specification, it is necessary to describe (i) the sensory effects of the food (i.e. appearance, taste, smell, texture, etc.), and/or (ii) functional effects of the food.

The sensory effects must be objectively and scientifically demonstrated using chemical or mechanical analysis (e.g. electronic nose, electronic tongue, and texture profile analyser), a systematic sensory test, etc. Trained panels can be used for sensory testing to determine people's food preference.

In the case of functional foods, experimental data verifying the effectiveness or utility should be disclosed in the specification originally filed, in a similar way to medical use inventions. Such data can be obtained from in vitro, animal, or human tests, or a method using a biomarker. Unlike medical use inventions, qualitative analysis or sensory test results for food products are acceptable to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO).

Claims for functional foods are usually written in the form of "a food composition for improving or preventing…", and are not allowed to use the expression "treatment" or "treating", which indicates medical utility. The use of a food composition is required for the object achieved by the property of functional components, such as lowering blood glucose level, improving obesity, and improving hyperlipidemia.

Overall, it seems that a lower standard for the specification and claims is applied to food-related inventions than for medical use inventions.

Trends in patent application filing for food-related inventions for the last 10 years in Korea


Safety aspect

As food is ingested, safety to the human body should not be overlooked. In a case in which it is not obvious to a person skilled in the art whether materials or components constituting a food composition are safe for human consumption, the composition claim is rejected as an invention likely to cause harm to public health under Article 32 of the Korean Patent Act. According to KIPO's Examination Guidelines (a) materials obtained from a human body (e.g. placenta and blood) and (b) substances toxic or harmful to the human body (e.g. DDT and Hg) are not permitted for use in the preparation of food. When the KIPO raises a rejection on the ground that the safety of components of a food composition is unknown, the rejection can be resolved by submitting a test result to prove human safety.

Patent application filings for food-related inventions are continuously increasing in Korea, as shown in the graph above. We believe that careful preparation of the specification and claims raises the chance of securing a patent for food-related inventions.

Min Son

Partner, Hanol IP & Law


HANOL Intellectual Property & Law

6th Floor, Daemyung Tower, 135, Beobwon-ro, Songpa-gu

Seoul, 05836

Republic of Korea

Tel: +82 2 942 1100 

Fax: +82 2 942 2600

more from across site and ros bottom lb

More from across our site

The deal could help Rouse gain a foothold in Australia and New Zealand for the first time
With a team of more than 80 patent lawyers and attorneys across 21 European offices, the firm is acting in some of the most high-profile UPC cases
Lippes Mathias has hired three partners and a counsel from Offit Kurman
External counsel for automotive companies explain how trends such as AI and vehicle connectivity are affecting their practices and reveal what their clients are prioritising
We provide a rundown of Managing IP’s news and analysis coverage from the week, and review what’s been happening elsewhere in IP
The winners of the awards will be revealed at a gala dinner in New York City on April 25
Counsel debate the potential outcome of SCOTUS’s latest copyright case after justices questioned whether they should dismiss it
Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career
The small Düsseldorf firm is making a big impact in the UPC. Founding partner Christof Augenstein explains why
The court criticised Oppo’s attempts to delay proceedings and imposed a penalty, adding that the Chinese company may need to pay more if the trial isn’t concluded this year
Gift this article