Korea: An IP Giant

One long overdue amendment to my blog was to add the Korean Intellectual Property Office (“KIPO”) to my list of national and regional patent offices. According to WIPO’s World Intellectual Property Indicators 2009 KIPO has surpassed the EPO to become the fourth largest patent office in the world.

Table 1: Patent Filings by Office 2007

Intellectual Property Office








South Korea




Source:World Intellectual Property Indicators 2009 (WIPO)

As one of the five largest patent offices in the world, the KIPO has joined the other four to collaborate on improving services for patent applicants. They launched a new joint website known as Five IP Offices on 8 Dec 2009.

However, South Korea does not just have a large patent office. It also has a lot of inventors. Again, according to the WIPO report it is the fourth largest country in the world for patent filings.

Table 2: Patent Filings by Country of Origin 2007









South Korea








Source:World Intellectual Property Indicators 2009 (WIPO)

That is not bad for a population of 48.4 million concentrated in a land area of 100,140 square kilometres and a GDP of US$929.1 billion (cf. UK population 61.1 million, land area 244,820 square kilometres and a GDP of US$2.68 trillion).

Not surprisingly, South Korea leads the table of patent filings per billion dollars of GDP expressed in terms of purchasing power parity followed by Japan, China, the USA, New Zealand, Germany and Russia. We weigh in at number 14, just behind Israel and Denmark but ahead of Sweden, France and, surprisingly, Switzerland, which I suppose is not so bad. Similarly, it heads a table of patent filings by R & D expenditure followed by Japan, Belarus, China, New Zealand and Russia. We come in at number 12 – just behind Germany and the USA but just ahead of Italy, Greece and Turkey. Two Korean companies, LG and Samsung, were in the top 20 PCT business sector applicants and Seoul National University was well ahead of Imperial College which was the top UK university in the university sector filings.

South Korea does not lag behind the world in trade mark or design applications either. The same WIPO report ranks KIPO as the 4th largest trade marks registry with 141,289 filings in 2007 – behind China’s with 681,358, the USA’s (304,129) and Japan’s (148.236) but ahead of Brazil’s (89,070), India’s (103,419) and the EU’s (OHIM) (89,362). The IPO was 20th with 40,484 trailing the trade marks registries of Chile (44,320) and well behind those of Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Australia and Canada. KIPO was also 4th in the number of industrial design applications behind the Chinese, EU (OHIM) and German designs registries but ahead of the JPO and the USPTO. The IPO did better in that league pipping the Thai designs registry for 15th place.

Small wonder that the New York Times gushed yesterday “Forget Tokyo. Design aficionados are now heading to Seoul” citing “glammed up cafes and restaurants, immaculate art galleries…. monumental fashion palaces ….. Seoul’s design obsessed mayor, Oh Se-hoon” and the city’s designation as world design capital for 2010 as reasons for visiting Seoul this year..

So how does a country with less than 50 million people crammed into just over 100,000 square kilometres with about 40% of our GDP which was almost torn apart by war 60 years ago manage it? I think one answer must lie in its institutions such as the Korea Invention Promotion Association (“KIPA”). Anyone clicking on this link will notice its slogan “One Person with One Invention”. Its stated objectives are

Introducing a “One person with One Invention” campaign in order to create an environment, in which all Koreans have interest in inventions.
Providing a ONE-STOP service, providing assistance from the early stages of inventions to the commercialization.
Promoting intellectual property and expand patent management support.
Training human resources to handle intellectual property issue in the age of globalization and activating initiative research and study.

It provides funding, valuation and marketing and most importantly runs a technology trading market through the Korea IP Service Centre. Now the folk who attend my IP clinics, make up the Leeds, Sheffield and other inventors clubs or consult or instruct me would die for something like this. Individual inventors like Trevor Baylis and James Dyson have been crying out for this sort of support for years. Dear old Business Link is just not in the same league.

Now I am not sure that EU state aid rules would allow our wonderful government to set up a KIPA for the UK even if it had the vision and the political will to do so but even if it did I think we would need more. We would need universities at least the equal of Seoul teaching more of our young men and women mathematics, sciences, engineering and technology. We would need design obsessed mayors. Boris Johnson has his virtues but I am not persuaded that industrial design is his top priority. And I think we have to start to regard inventors, designers, artists and entrepreneurs as we do footballers and investment bankers and allow them to earn the same sort of money rather than just tolerate such potential wealth creators as eccentrics.

About Jane Lambert

I am a barrister specializing in intellectual property, technology, media and entertainment and competition law. I specialize in helping SME (small and medium enterprises) protect and exploit their investment in brands, design, technology and the arts. SME require intellectual property (legal protection for their intellectual assets) at least as much as big business but their limited means restrict the way they can use it. Looking after such clients wisely requires skills and knowledge which have taken me years to learn.
This entry was posted in IP, KIPA. design, KIPO, Korea. Bookmark the permalink.

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