On October 30, 2013, the Korean Intellectual Property Office announced its “Measures to Strengthen Protection of Creative Ideas” at the 24th Meeting of Economy-Related Ministers.  Accordingly, it has become easier to acquire patent rights for creative ideas and it is anticipated that the protection of such rights will be strengthened.

  1. Improvements in the System so Intellectual Property Rights Can Actively be Obtained for Ideas

Based on the fact that a lot of time was incurred to apply for a patent for an initial idea since the current law requires that a variety of categories, such as “field of technology,” “details of invention” and “specific details to implement the invention,” be completed in order to acquire a patent, it is planned that from 2015 applying for a patent for an initial idea could be promptly made based only on submission of “explanatory materials on ideas.” 

Additionally, in order to determine the period for exercise of rights based on the market status, it is planned that the divisional application system will be adopted after the determination of the patent and, in order to allow the holder of ideas to easily acquire patent rights, the requisite for the “claim for exemption of notice” is planned to be changed from “obligation of prior reporting at the time of the application” to “method of subsequently establishing.”

Furthermore, based on the amendment to the Trademark Act, with respect to the “trade dress” which refers to the total image or overall appearance of products or services, it is planned that protection as trademark rights will be provided in the case that the condition of “functioning to  distinguish a particular person’s products or services” is satisfied, as opposed to the current standard of “having become famous due to actual use” and, it is also planned that the current standard for examining the design will be amended so that from December 2013, regardless of whether the product is indicated as a portrayed design, all the relevant products will be provided protection.

  1. Multifaceted Protection Measures for Ideas

The Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (“Unfair Competition Protection Act”) was amended in July 30, 2013 (date of implementation January 31, 2014).  Under the amended Unfair Competition Protection Act, (i) by broadly defining acts of unfair competition under the “general provision” as “any other acts which infringe upon the economic benefits of another party through the unauthorized use of the results, etc. which were obtained from the significant efforts and/or investment of another party for ones business profits based on methods which violate fair commercial practices and/or competition order,” new grounds for protecting new forms of ideas for economic/technological development were established (there are expectations that new financial products and internet advertising frames, etc. will also be protected under the Unfair Competition Protection Act) and (ii) unlike the prior version of the Unfair Competition Protection Act which only imposed criminal sanctions in regard to infringement of a “company’s” trade secrets, such provision has been amended to “acts of infringing on the trade secrets of the party that holds such trade secrets.”  Therefore, not only are individuals, universities and companies protected, acts of infringement regarding the trade secrets of a holder of trade secrets (including ideas) will be subject to sanctions.

  1. Strengthening of Enforcement of the Laws and Establishing a Grievance Settlement System for the Protection of Ideas

The Korean Intellectual Property Office viewed that there was a need to strengthen its enforcement of the laws and grievance settlement system in order to protect creative ideas.  Accordingly, it plans to (i) eradicate misuse of a company’s internal and external ideas and technology, (ii) strengthen fair compensation and (iii) implement rigid enforcement of acts of stealing ideas, such as counterfeit products and illegal reproduction.