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South Korea updates IP law

Yullee Kim and Hokyun Cho of FirstLaw analyse recent IP updates in South Korea, including amendments to the patent revocation procedure, the expanded authority of KIPO’s Special Judicial Police and changes to the enforceability of patent term extension claims

The current patent revocation procedure

The revisions to the Korean Patent Act, effective from March 1 2017, introduced a new procedure for the revocation of a patent. Over the past two years, from the first patent revocation case filed in May 2017 to April 2019, there have been 287 patent revocation cases instituted, equivalent to about 30% of the number of patent invalidation cases lodged during the same period. The most common technical field for patent revocation cases was Section C of the International Patent Classification (IPC), i.e. chemistry/metallurgy, with 42% of the cases belonging to that field. The second most common field was Section H of the IPC, i.e. electronics, with 16% of the cases.

In the first half of this year, the Trial Board of KIPO rendered decisions in 103 patent revocation cases, resulting in 25 patent (about 24%) revocations. Only three of the 25 revocations were appealed by the patentees to the Patent Court, signalling that the patent revocation system is playing a significant role as a viable option for early resolution of patent disputes.

Expanded authority of KIPO's Special Judicial Police

The Special Judicial Police (SJP) of KIPO is now able to conduct criminal investigations and raids in connection with patent and design infringement, trade secret misappropriation and "dead copy" infringement under the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (UCPA), following an amendment to the relevant law, which became effective as of March 19 2019.

The amendments consider that to determine infringement of a patent, design or trade secret, expertise in intellectual property law is required. Additionally, it is sometimes very difficult to understand the patent or trade secret in question without expertise in the relevant technology. For these reasons, KIPO, which has a pool of experts comprising about 1,100 patent and trial examiners, including about 450 examiners who hold PhD degrees in a relevant technical field, was given expanded authority and is expected to take more effective measures to protect individuals and companies from infringement of their intellectual property rights (IPRs).

Before the amendment, the SJP was able to conduct criminal investigations (e.g. conduct raids, confiscate counterfeit goods and even arrest infringers) only in connection with trademark infringement under the Trademark Act and confusion of well-known marks under the UCPA. Following the amendment, KIPO has added more investigators to exercise its expanded authority effectively and will continue to push for the increase in manpower and expansion of the organisation.

Some advantages of the SJP of KIPO can be summarised as follows:

  • Infringement evidence, which otherwise was difficult to obtain, can now be obtained through search and seizure by the SJP.
  • The infringer(s) can be punished by fines or imprisonment after being arraigned in a criminal court.
  • The SJP investigation can be executed independently from corresponding trial proceedings before the Intellectual Property Trial and Appeal Board (IPTAB) or civil proceedings before the civil court.
  • The SJP investigation will hold more authority due to its expertise in both the technology and the law and, as a result, help the court render prompt and just decisions.

The expanded authority of the SJP will provide owners of IPRs with enhanced protection and a more patentee-friendly environment.

Enforceability of patent term extension claims

With respect to the scope of a patent claim whose term has been extended, the Korean courts have narrowly construed Article 95 of the Korean Patent Act and held that the scope of a term-extended patent claim does not cover a product that is different from the patentee's market-approved product that served as the basis for the patent term extension (see, e.g. Patent Court Case No. 2016 Na 1929 dated June 30 2017).

However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the scope of a term-extended patent claim should be determined by examining the totality of the identicalness of the active ingredient, therapeutic effect and use of the patentee's and the accused's products. By applying the standard, the court recognised the enforceability of a patent claim with an extended term against a competitor's pharmaceutical product that comprised a salt that was different from the salt employed in the patentee's product approved for marketing (Supreme Court Case No. 2017 Da 245798 dated January 17 2019).









特に、特司警を通じての刑事的救済手段を利用する際、(i) 事案に応じて、令状に基づく押収捜索等の強制捜査による証拠確保が容易となり、被疑侵害者の身体拘束及び刑事処罰(罰金刑、懲役刑)も可能となり、(ii) 関連審判と民事訴訟手続き等が同時に係属中の場合でも独立して特司警の判断を受けることができ、(iii) 専門的な捜査を行うことによって、裁判所の迅速かつ正確な判決に好影響を与えることができると見込まれる。




Yullee Kim 金律利 (キムユリ)

Yullee Kim is a Korean and Japanese patent attorney and partner at FirstLaw. She joined the firm in 2001. She has extensive experience prosecuting patent applications, providing expert opinions and handling invalidation trial and appeal cases in chemistry-related areas, especially for Japanese clients.

After completing the MIP (master of intellectual property) programme at K.I.T. Graduate School in Japan, she passed the Japanese Patent Bar Exam in 2014, which is very rare for non-native Japanese speakers. Armed with her profound understanding of the Japanese IP system, she provides Japanese clients with customised legal services.

第一特許法人のパートナー弁理士である金律利(Yullee Kim)は2001年度の入所以来、特許出願、審判、訴訟、鑑定等において様々な経験を積み、特に化学分野における日本クライアントからの業務にあたり大きな成果を収めてきた。


Hokyun Cho 曺豪均 (チョ・ホギュン)

Hokyun Cho is a partner and patent attorney at FirstLaw which he joined in 2002. He received his undergraduate degree in material science and engineering from Seoul National University in 1995. Cho also obtained his JD degree at the Washington University in St Louis School of Law in 2012.

As a member of the Korean Patent Bar and the New York State Bar, Hokyun Cho has provided advice on all aspects of intellectual property law for leading Japanese and US companies. In particular, he has extensive experience in advising semiconductor and hi-tech industry clients on patent procurement at home and abroad, and patent analysis such as validity, infringement, and freedom to operate analysis.

His area of technical expertise covers various aspects of material engineering including metallurgy, semiconductor engineering, polymer science, optics and mechanical engineering.

He is a member of the Korea Patent Attorneys Association (KPAA) and the Asian Patent Attorneys Association. He served as director of international affairs of KPAA during 2016 and 2017. Cho is fluent in Japanese, English and Korean.



ソウル大学工科大学金属工学科を1995年に卒業し、アメリカのワシントン大学ロースクール(Washington University in St. Louis、School of Law)を2012年に卒業し、J.D.の学位を取得した。


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