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Scheme Launched to Protect South Korean Brands

Issued: January 31 2015

Comprehensive countermeasures for protecting South Korean brands in the global market are being prepared in order to help those brands navigate challenging intellectual property landscapes in China and many ASEAN countries, according to Korea Bizwire.

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Ofice, the number of trademark applications by South Korean companies in China is wholly insuficient, although the volume of South Korean exports to China has far outpaced other countries. Statistics show a total of 21.4 trademarks per US$100 million of export from the United States were published in China, compared to 10.4 from Japan. The number of published trademarks from South Korea stood at only 4.6.

What causes the difference between the volume and number of trademark application? Sun Chang, a partner at Lee & Ko in Seoul, says that the reason for the gap is probably due to practice that has been adopted by South Korean companies, rather than Chinese laws. “In other words, South Korean companies have exported their products without seeking appropriate measures to protect their brands. Although there has been an increase of global brands including Samsung and LG, the majority of the trademark disputes in China involve Korean small businesses. Since it is quite uncertain whether these businesses would do well in China, they are reluctant to invest money in procuring the protection for their trademarks, thereby causing the gap,” he adds.

Consequently, a comprehensive support scheme for South Korean brand protection was announced in December 2014. Under the scheme, the government will educate companies that plan to enter the global market on the importance of trademark application, and support the application processes. The Korea Trade Promotion Corporation (KOTRA), the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and related industrial organizations are responsible for the education. IP-DESK and the Regional Intellectual Property Center will help navigate the process as well.

Chang says the scheme is in expectation of a free trade agreement with China. “There has been some strategy implementations and project selections whose main objectives are to build up brands for South Korean companies and crack down on counterfeits, but as far as we are aware, any detailed implementation plan will be established sometime early next year,” he says.

“Thus, if the comprehensive support scheme goes well, there will be some preventative measures for trademark squatting as well as counterfeits to protect the South Korean small businesses in China. But, we think it would be too premature to discuss whether it will be successful at this stage, when there are no detailed explanation regarding its progression,” he says.