On November 24, 2017, the Korean National Assembly passed an amendment to the Court Organization Act (the "Amendment"), which will take effect in May 2018. Importantly, the Amendment establishes a new international litigation chamber (the "International Litigation Chamber") within the Korean District Courts and the Patent Court, in which IP cases may be heard entirely in English or other foreign languages, with the consent of the parties ("International Cases"). Prior to the Amendment, all cases needed to be held in the Korean language to have legal effect.
While use of the Korean language in courts is the general rule in other courts, the Amendment creates an exception for foreign-languages in the International Litigation Chamber. This Amendment applies to pending cases at the time it goes into effect, and the Korean Supreme Court is expected to issue rules regarding the requirements and procedures for the management of the International Litigation Chamber, such as the requirements to determine which cases will be heard in a foreign language and the permissible languages for a particular case.
English is not the only language the Amendment permits — it leaves open the possibility of also permitting Chinese, Japanese, French, German, and other languages. However, in view of the practical concern that reviewing International Cases in multiple foreign languages from the launch of the International Litigation Chamber would create a significant administrative burden, the Korean Supreme Court will likely issue a rule limiting permissible foreign languages to English only for the time being. A subsequent increase in the number of International Cases and diversification of parties may result in inclusion of additional languages.
This Amendment will allow litigants to submit court briefs and exhibits, as well as deliver oral arguments in the permitted foreign language without having to submit Korean translations. Also being considered is the use of video conferencing for oral testimony, which would, for example, allow an expert witness (such as a technical expert) to testify from abroad in the expert's native language. As International Cases permit foreign parties to make arguments in the party's native language without translation or interpretation, it would minimize the risk of mistranslation and reduce costs for translation of briefs and exhibits and interpretation of live testimony and arguments.
The Korean Patent Court has been preparing in earnest to transform itself from the first IP-specialized court in Asia into a global "IP Hub Court," through means such as hosting multiple international IP conferences. Until the Amendment goes into effect, the Patent Court will fine tune its facilities and bolster staffing needs for the successful launch of the International Litigation Chamber.
The Korean National Assembly has been eager to establish an "IP Hub Court" in Korea for years. In addition, the current Chief Justice of the Korean Supreme Court is a former Chief Judge of the Patent Court and is keenly interested in IP cases. Therefore, much attention and support for the success of the International Litigation Chamber and International Cases can be expected from the central government. Also, the Korean Patent Court has shown considerable enthusiasm for the successful launch of the International Litigation Chamber. In particular, the Korean Patent Court has been proactively advertising the establishment of the International Litigation Chamber to the Seoul Bar Association and other organizations and key individuals in the legal profession, as well as seeking the cooperation of those in the profession.
The Amendment is expected to improve foreign parties' access to courts and transforming Korea as one of the influential centers of IP-related dispute resolution.