The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) has a wide range of responsibility areas, ranging from patent and trademark examinations, to administering the IP Tribunal (the first stage of invalidation actions in Korea), and launching a Special Judicial Police force last year specializing in trademark infringement enforcement actions.
Mr. Lee Soo-won has served as Commissioner of KIPO since his appointment in May 2010. Prior to his current position, he worked in the Office of the President as Secretary to the President for Economic Crisis Management.
As Commissioner of KIPO, Mr. Lee is in charge of intellectual property (IP) policies. His top priorities are to enhance the quality of patent examinations; to maximize R&D efficiency through patent strategy and open innovation; and to facilitate cooperative work-sharing with other leading IP offices.He is also endeavoring to initiate various programs of international cooperation to meet the desperate needs of the marginalized and impoverished, especially those who struggle for the basic necessities of survival.
Commissioner Lee, who brings a large amount of senior policymaking experience to the role, outlines the current policy in a number of key areas in an exclusive interview.
In recent years, KIPO has established itself firmly in the top rank of international patent offices. Could you give an indication of your priority areas for international cooperation, in particular in regards to IP5 initiatives and also KIPO's role in capacity building in developing countries?
KIPO is engaged in extensive cooperation with the other major intellectual property (IP) offices that make up the IP5 offices, namely the European Patent Office (EPO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO), the State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China (SIPO), and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The aim of IP5 cooperation is to raise the efficiency of patent examinations and administration through work-sharing among the five leading offices. This type of cooperation helps improve the timeliness and quality of patent examination services.
The IP5 offices are collaborating on ten foundation projects. The projects involve three working groups on patent classification, IT supported business processes, and patent examination policy. KIPO leads two of the foundation projects: the Common Training Policy Project and the Mutual Machine Translation Project. The fourth IP5 heads meeting will be held in Japan in April 2011. It will be an opportunity to check the progress of the foundation projects and to discuss plans for further cooperation in the future.
KIPO is also actively engaged in bilateral cooperation. We had more than 30 bilateral meetings with other IP offices in 2010 and broadened our exchanges with European countries. In January we had a heads meeting and discussed bilateral activities with the EPO. And in February we had another heads meeting with the Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (UKIPO). At the latter meeting we discussed an ongoing mutual benchmarking exercise to enhance examination quality and productivity. I believe the project with the UKIPO is indicative of our world-class examination capabilities.
In March 2010, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian Patent and Trademark Office on IP protection. And in July we began implementing a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) with the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. This project enables each office to conduct accelerated examinations by utilizing the examination results of the other office. KIPO is also endeavoring to strengthen cooperative ties with the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM). These efforts are expected to come to fruition in due course.
Once a least developed country, Korea now has the fourth largest number of patent applications. This transformation has motivated us to help developing and least developed countries (LDCs) achieve economic progress through the utilization of IP. In 2004, we established the Korea Funds-in-Trust at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to help enhance the IP capabilities and raise IP awareness in developing countries and LDCs. To date, 69 countries have benefited from the 45 projects under this scheme.
Recently we embarked on a project to provide appropriate technology to least developed countries. We also assist developing countries to create local brands so that they can sell their quality products at adequate prices. Last year, for example, we disseminated appropriate technology to Chad to help locals produce sugarcane charcoal and dried mangoes. And we are now planning to distribute sand brick technology to Nepal. Last year we also assisted in the branding of Chadian dried mangoes and, in 2009 we helped the YMCA with the branding of East Timorese coffee that was imported and sold under the fair trade movement. This year we will collaborate with APEC on the One Village One Brand project.
One of the areas that receive a lot of attention is efforts to maintain patent quality, especially in the face of soaring global patent applications and subsequent increases in examiner workloads. Could you outline KIPO's efforts to maintain examination quality whilst keeping on top of rising application numbers?
The soaring number of patent applications means that IP offices around the world face a common challenge in terms of managing and maintaining the quality of patent examinations. As with domestic applications, KIPO is now receiving an ever-increasing number of requests from foreign enterprises for international searches under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This trend has led to huge increases in examiner workloads.
To deal with the increasing number of applications, KIPO has developed and implemented various policies on the provision of high-quality examination services. Firstly, we have recruited additional highly qualified examiners. We have also improved our training courses on new technologies so that examiners can keep abreast of rapidly changing technologies. Moreover, we ensure the quality of our examinations by assigning skilled experts, such as directors of examination divisions and heads of examination sections, to guide and supervise the entire examination process.
The Office of the Examination Quality Assurance Officer is responsible for the overall management of the examination quality. The staff of that office evaluate and manage the quality of patent, trademark, and design examinations. They evaluate samples of examiners' work results and undertake relevant planning, diagnosis, and analysis in order to improve the overall quality of our examinations. The evaluation results help examiners avoid repeating errors and rewards are given to divisions and examiners with excellent evaluation results. The results are also included in the overall performance evaluation of each examiner.
A special team of examiners is also dedicated to ensuring the quality of PCT applications.
Trials at the Intellectual Property Tribunal is playing an important role in the resolution of IP disputes. Could you briefly explain what efforts are being made by the Intellectual Property Tribunal to improve the quality of the trials and to increase the efficiency of the trial procedures?
The Intellectual Property Tribunal, which is one of the organizations affiliated with KIPO, continually strives to ensure the quality of trials and to improve the efficiency of trial procedures. To raise the trial quality, the tribunal analyzes the grounds for the revocation of trial decisions and includes the outcome in the evaluation of trial examiners. It also provides training courses on the cases involving revocation of the trial decisions for trial examiners. Each quarter, the tribunal rewards trial examiners who have made exemplary trial decisions.
The tribunal has endeavored to have more oral proceedings and to improve the quality of those proceedings. In inter parte cases where parties are sharply opposed to each other, the tribunal conducts oral proceedings to clarify the issues and to ensure the accuracy of the relevant facts. We have also increased the number of trial courts from one to five, recruited four additional court reporters, and equipped all the trial courts with a digital deposition system. Last year the tribunal conducted 647 oral proceedings, and it expects to keep this number at an annual average of about 600.
The tribunal has produced a guide manual to standardize written trial decisions, which is accessible on our electronic trial system. The manual is expected to help trial examiners minimize the preparation time for writing trial decisions.
One major recent development in KIPO's activities has been the founding of the Special Judicial Police force, which began operations in September 2010. Can you give an overview of the role of this department, and are there any ways that the EUCCK IP Centre and its members can support KIPO in its valuable enforcement actions?
Counterfeit goods should be eradicated. They discourage investments, hinder the creation of new inventions, and have a bad effect on the economy. Prior to September 2010, there was no organization in Korea exclusively responsible for investigating and cracking down on trademark-related offenses. KIPO's crackdown activities were limited to issuing corrective warnings or taking legal action against counterfeiters.
The introduction of the Special Judicial Police Authority at KIPO in September 2010 means we are no longer a paper tiger. We can clamp down on the circulation of counterfeit goods in a more systematic and efficient manner. The new authority is the only investigatory body in Korea dedicated solely to trademark-related offenses. It endeavors to eradicate counterfeit goods through its own crackdowns and through cooperative works with other related organizations. The authority currently has offices in Seoul, Daejeon, and Busan. It has a total staff of 19.
The efforts of the Special Judicial Police Authority are focused on the online and off-line circulation of counterfeit goods. The authority has strengthened the apprehension of repeat offenders and intensified crackdowns at counterfeit hotspots. It has also enhanced cooperative ties and conducted joint crackdowns with relevant organizations, such as the Korea Customs Service, the Prosecution Service, the National Police Agency, and local governments.
The introduction of the Special Judicial Police Authority led to a tenfold increase in the number of confiscated counterfeit goods last year. Before the authority was established in September last year, the number of confiscated goods from January to August was only 2,860. By the end of the year, however, the number had soared to 28,629. This is actually a twenty times increase considering the authority had operated for only four months until then.
To more effectively crack down on counterfeit goods, we need further cooperation from trademark holders and other relevant groups. It would be helpful, for instance, if the IP Center of the EUCCK could provide the Special Judicial Police Authority with detailed information on any online and off-line distribution of counterfeit goods and offer the staff at the authority a training course on how to distinguish genuine and counterfeit goods.
Many Korean firms are now focusing on R&D investment as a route to long-term growth. In addition, Korean brands and design are becoming increasingly popular throughout Asia and the world. What efforts is KIPO making to promote innovation and creativity, in particular those of SME's?
Nowadays Korea is blessed with a world-class manufacturing industry in a variety of fields. The government and private enterprises have invested heavily in R&D to ensure this trend continues for a long time. In 2009, R&D investments in Korea constituted 3.56% of our GDP. That's the fourth highest proportion in the world.
KIPO has contributed to this state of affairs by helping enterprises protect their R&D outcomes as IP. As a result, Korean products have become increasingly popular throughout Asia and the rest of the world.
Small and medium-sized enterprises in Korea often need help in the areas of innovation and IP creation. To meet this need, our office runs 31 local IP centers to encourage them to create their own IP. The centers offer consultations on patent management as well as on brand and design strategies.