Applying for a Patent in South Korea

In 2022, there were 3.46 million patent applications were submitted, the highest number of filings ever recorded. Offices received around 68% of patent applications filed globally in Asia, with an increase rate of 11% in 2012.

Types of Patent Applications

Similar to many other national intellectual property offices, South Korea recognizes three types of patents: invention patents, utility model patents, and design patents. In contrast, each of them is governed by distinct legislation. The invention patent is protected under the Korean Patent Act with a 20-year term. The utility model patent is protected under the Korean Utility Model Act with a 10-year term. The design patent is protected under the Korean Design Protection Act with a 20-year term. The difference is the interchangeability between the utility model and invention patent applications. The applicant has the option to switch their application type within 30 days from the date of receiving the first Office Action.

Available Filing Methods

Foreign applicants have three ways of submitting patent applications in South Korea: direct submission, the Paris Convention, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

  1. Direct Submission: Applicants can file their patent applications directly with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO).
  2. Paris Convention: Similar to other member countries, applicants can file a patent application in a member country within 12 months (for inventions or utility models) or 6 months (for designs) to submit it to KIPO.
  3. PCT: After filing a PCT application, applicants have 31 months from the priority date to enter the national phase in South Korea.

Importantly, applicants could initially submit their applications in English and provide a Korean translation within 14 months from the application date. Therefore, patent translation is an indispensable process for filing a patent in South Korea.

Long Journey to Obtain a Patent in South Korea

It is a long journey to obtain a patent in South Korea. It typically takes 16 to 24 months from the submission of an examination request for KIPO to conduct a formal substantive examination. This meticulous process ensures that patent applications meet all the requirements for patentability. It requests a separate submission for the examination request and must be completed in Korean. The KIPO will initiate the formal examination only after receiving this request.

Benefits of Filing Patents in South Korea

South Korea is one of the world’s leading economies with strong policies promoting industries such as computer technology, batteries, semiconductors, and telecommunications. It is recognized as one of the top ten most business-friendly jurisdictions. Whether applying through the PCT or the Paris Convention, there is a reason to include South Korea in the global patent filing strategy.

Strategic Considerations for Patent Applicants

When considering patent protection in South Korea, there are several strategic considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Language Requirements: Given the necessity to file examination requests in Korean, foreign applicants require an LSP to perform the patent translation or a local attorney who is familiar with the legal technicalities.
  2. Cost-Effectivenetss: Opting for a utility model patent can be a cost-effective solution for inventions with a shorter commercial life or those that do not meet the stringent patentability criteria for regular patents.
  3. Legal Strength: Although utility models offer a shorter duration of protection, they provide a strong defense against infringement.

In conclusion, it requires careful planning and strategic decision-making for filing a patent application and examination request in South Korea. Understanding the specific requirements and advantages of each can significantly impact the protection of your intellectual property rights. By leveraging these insights, innovators can better position themselves in the competitive South Korean market.

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