On November 24, 2017, the Korean Assembly passed a bill to amend the Court Organization Act (“the Amendment”), which will allow civil suits involving patents, utility models, design rights, and trademarks (“IP cases”) to be heard and adjudicated in English and other foreign languages. Expected to take effect in about six months, the Amendment establishes a new International Chamber within the Korean District Courts and the Patent Court, where the proceedings involving IP cases may be conducted entirely in English or other foreign languages with the consent of the parties. Previous to the Amendment, all legal proceedings in the Korean courts had to be conducted in Korean to have legal effect. This new forum for IP cases will also be available to cases already pending in the Korean District Courts and the Patent Court when the Amendment goes into effect.

Although it remains to be seen how the Korean Supreme Court would work out the specific rules regarding permissible languages, case certification, and other procedural aspects of the International Chambers, parties opting to have their IP cases heard by the International Chambers should be able to submit court briefs and exhibits, as well as deliver oral arguments, in a permissible foreign language of their choosing (English is certain to be included) without having to provide Korean translations. It is also expected that the International Chambers could permit the use of video conferencing for oral testimony, which would, for example, allow an expert witness to testify from abroad in his or her native language.

The availability of the International Chambers for IP cases will make Korean courts an attractive choice for foreign litigants, which already account for more than 40% of the parties in cases before the Patent Court. For example, the International Chambers may provide a cost-effective proving ground for foreign litigants to test their case theories, expert witnesses, and oral arguments in the same language as in the lawsuits that are pending or being contemplated in jurisdictions where it is more expensive and slower to litigate IP cases. Significant cost savings may be realized by using the same experts and substantially similar briefs as in the corresponding case in another country, and the typically shorter case schedule and earlier decision by the Korean courts may facilitate an early settlement of international IP disputes.

Foreign litigants, who are contemplating enforcement of IP rights or defending against IP infringement suits elsewhere, should investigate whether counterpart IP rights exist in Korea, and if so, consider consulting with a local Korean law firm capable of coordinating with foreign counsel in parallel international IP cases to determine whether litigating in the International Chambers of the Korean District Courts would be a viable option.