The patent world in South Korea is undergoing a period of growth and change these days. Many new patents are being made, as always, but also many new patent lawsuits are being pursued.
First up, 3M Corp has announced that along with its wholly owned subsidiary 3M Korea Ltd, it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit in the District Court of Seoul, Korea against LGS Co Ltd. The company said the suit alleges that the manufacture and sale of optical films used to manage light in liquid crystal displays by LGS constitutes infringement of 3M's patent rights. Details, however, are still sketchy.
This development is reminiscent of a previous lawsuit earlier this year in August. Sharp filed a lawsuit on August 6 alleging infringements of five of its patents on LCD-related technology by Samsung Electronics and its US subsidiaries Samsung Electronics America (SEA) and Samsung Telecommunications America (STA). The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Sharp introduced the Aquos LCD TV in 2001. The company started manufacturing large-size LCD TV in 2004 at its Kameyama Plant in Japan, an integrated LCD TV production facility, incorporating all aspects of the production process from manufacture of LCD modules to final assembly of LCD TVs.
But patent lawsuits are not exclusively Korean companies against foreign firms. A recent dispute between Korea-based Pixelplus and MagnaChip Semiconductor which began in April of last year has ended on October 29th. Pixelplus obtained a completely positive and affirmative ruling from the Korean Patent Court granting the Company's request to effectively cancel and invalidate the disputed contact hole process patent claimed by MagnaChip Semiconductor. MagnaChip previously claimed that Pixelplus infringed on four different patents that the company owned. The company sought US$12 million in damages, but was unable to obtain the money.
Pixelplus is a South Korea-based developer of high-performance, highresolution, and cost-effective CMOS image sensors for use primarily in mobile camera phones. In addition to mobile phones, Pixelplus provides CMOS image sensors and SoC solutions for use in webcams and notebook embedded cameras, toys and games, and security and surveillance system applications.
MagnaChip Semiconductor is a leading designer, developer and manufacturer of mixed-signal and digital multimedia semiconductors addressing the convergence of consumer electronics and communications devices. The company focuses on CMOS image sensors and flat panel display drivers.
Official patent language
Another development in the Korean patent landscape is the adoption of the Korean language as an official language of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The Korea times reports: Korean was just recently adopted as the 10th official language recognized by the WIPO. Doesn't sound like a big deal Considering how many languages are spoken around the world, Korea had every right to be flattered and honored to be included at the 43rd assembly meeting in Switzerland. WIPO's 183 members voted unanimously to include the Asian tongue, and the other eight languages in the exclusive rank are English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Now as an official language of the international patent application, South Korea's number of patent applications should have a significant increase. The time and money saved from not having to use a translator is expected to motivate more Korean inventors to step forward and make their ideas known.
Stronger international cooperation
Korea has been invited to take a stronger and more responsible role in the international arena. The European Union executive suggested in October that Europe should strike an anti-piracy pact with the United States, Japan and Korea that would help them all do more to stamp out counterfeit goods. It said this would set out new global norms for protecting intellectual property rights that guarantee a stream of revenue for the developers of new products because they can license their designs for others to make. Europe and the U.S. have separately pushed China to improve the lax enforcement of copyright and trademark protections that they say cost their companies billions of dollars annually.
The European Commission insisted it was not trying to gang up on China but create a group of countries that wanted to beef up patent enforcement. Membership would be open to others, including "advanced developing countries" such as India or Brazil, when they felt the time was right. The EU, the U.S., Japan and Switzerland . that all "consider intellectual property rights a key instrument for their development and innovation policies" . have agreed to take part in talks. No word yet on Korea's involvement has been spoken.
The EU executive will need to win over the 27 EU governments before it can start discussing a new agreement with major trading partners. A deal with other major patent creators like the United States would help them keep pace with the huge spread of fakes and "the changing nature of intellectual property theft" as digital storage allows films and music to be copied at lightning speed. The EU also mentioned the growing importance of the Internet as a means of distribution as sites such as Russia's allofmp3.com skirt international royalty rules.
It would also help curb counterfeit food and drugs that put people at risk because they may be purchasing a substandard product, thinking it is a wellknown brand name. Piracy is growing and spreading far beyond fake Louis Vuitton luggage and copied DVDs as customs guards uncover counterfeit airplane parts, toys and electrical appliances. Seizures of counterfeit cosmetics, personal care products, food and drink at EU borders have surged 40 percent since 2005, the EU said. It highlighted as "most worrying" the booming trade in fake pharmaceuticals that may mop up almost 10 percent of world trade in medicines . and are often sold to the world's poorest nations.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that international trade in fake consumer goods reaps US$200 billion every year or 2 percent of world trade. The EU said by adding domestic trade, business-to-business deals and Internet sales of fakes meant all counterfeiting and piracy worldwide "could well be several hundred billion dollars more."
If South Korea is interested in living up to its new responsibilities as an international intellectual property producer, it should respect the IP of other countries in return for its own IP being respected. The Korean government would do well to curb piracy in its own borders and encourage international law enforcement cooperation in the area of IP protection.
Several ways that this could be possible have already been outlined above. However, there are some additional steps that the government could take in order to step up to the world stage. First of all, the government could actively encourage more Free Trade Agreements with other leading countries, and include intellectual property deals in them. The US-Korea FTA did include this kind of clause, however the future of the FTA is bleak. Hopefully the EU-Korea FTA will have more success in becoming real.