Saturday, December 31, 2005

Imapct of Hallyu

One of the more amusing things about the "Korean Wave", or "Hallyu", in Asia now is how Korea is now walking the proverbial mile in America's shoes. Korea is now dealing with the same problems and complaints that it used to irk American companies in Korea for so long.

I have commented a few times on the double take Korea is now doing with respect to intellectual property rights, its Capt. Renault-esq "Shock" lax IP enforcement in Asia, and the American senense of shadenfreunde at Korea's new found IP plight. However this passage in a US article about Hallyu got to me:

"The popularity of the Korean series is a challenge to Chinese counterparts," said Xia Xueluan, a sociologist at Peking University. "The fact is Chinese directors and producers aren't making good enough stuff to attract that audience, and it's embarrassing for them."... Zhang Guoli, one of China's top television actors recently dismissed the Korean Wave as a "cultural invasion" and urged his countrymen to support homegrown productions... 

"It is not cultural imperialism," [Professor Kang Chul-Keun, director of the Hallyu Academy at Seoul's Chung-Ang University] said. "They chose us; we did not target them."

Perhaps Korea will refect upon this before issuing ad hominem attacks on US cultural products.

Hey a guy can dream can't he?

Infrigement Sony

Infrigement Sony
Originally uploaded by Drambuie_man.
Notice the "Soya" packaging, and particuarly the script used. I almost made the mistake myself. Further what is not in the picture is the store sold about 10 types of "Soya" brand headphones.

Most distrubingly, these products were found at a major Korean hypermarket. They should know better.

Only in Korea!

From an article on Korea's protest culture:

"When the government pressures protesters to be submissive without listening to their voices, it will only lead to stronger resistance." Park Seok-jin, a member of the Sarangbang Group for Human Rights.

 "What's needed most for peaceful demonstrations is for the government to listen to the protesters." Kim Cheong-ju, commander of a Seoul riot police squad. 

In the same paper as the above are some of the voices of these protesters:

Chohung's labor union, which has demanded that the new bank name [from the combination of Shinhan and Chohung banks] include the word "Chohung," opposed the decision...Union leaders clashed with security guards as they tried to fight their way into the press conference...Chohung's labor union said on Tuesday that 88 percent of its members had voted in favor of a walkout if the bank's new name did not include the word "Chohung."

Perhaps what is needed is not more "listening" but more discussion over what is worth fighting for.

Friday, December 30, 2005

New York Times on Hwang's Staff

A recent NYT article talks about the compartmentalization of Hwang Woo Suk's laboratory:

The frequent American visitors to Dr. Hwang's growing operation were impressed at the scale and skill of his operation and how he divided his scientists into task forces that specialized in each step of the cloning process. But this compartmentalization may have meant that not all of his co-workers knew what was going on. Few seem to have seen the colonies of embryonic cells Dr. Hwang said he had cloned from patients. 

This supports my post yesterday on Hwang's change of lab assistants may been a key factor in the fraud.

(note: heh heh...he said "staff"...heh...heh)

How Much are Cell Phone Royalties Really

This past month has seen quite an increase in news about complaints about overseas royalty payments, particularly the ones paid by Korean telecom operations:

1. A Dong-A artcile bemoaning the general royalty imbalance between Korea and the world. The Korean Electronic Association estimates "Patent-related expenditures of Korean flagship companies such as cell phone, MP3 player, monitor, and set-top box makers rose from $163 million in 2001 to $280 million last year."
2. An artcile in the Korea Times specifical bemoaning Qualcomm for its licencing structure for Korean handset makers.
3. More complaints in the Korea Times from an other IP holder, Interndigital Communications, for trying to increase its licecing schedule. Many makers complain that the move will force them out of business.

This last one got me, one would think that from these articles that these big foreign compaines are robbing Korean handset makers blind. However consider this article on Qualcomm in Forbes in November '05. The article includes a graphic spelling out the costs of making a basic handset:

Thats right we are only taking about 7% of the total costs. Meanwhile Samsung reports a gross margin on their handsets world wide of around 15% (it varies quarter to quarter). Yeah, Qualcomm is really bleeding this industry dry.

Bankrupcy in Korea

The JoongAng Ilbo quotes the "Institute for Monetary Economic Research" on a statistic that up to 1.2 million people are on the verge of bankruptcy. According to the National Statistics Office, Korea has around 14 million households, which means almost 1 in 10 homes have somebody on the verge of bankruptcy. Either somebody needs to check their figures, or this is truly disturbing as people claim a recovery of the Korean economy.

Gratuitious Beaver Shot

Gratuitious Beaver Shot
Originally uploaded by Drambuie_man.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Koshiwon at 70 bucks a night?

You bet, London gets new Koshiwon style hotels.

Analyzing Hwang's Patents

I finally got a look at an English translation of the 8 patent applications filed by Hwang Woo-suk. I cannot post them in full because of their size, but I will summarize what I can. I may make some mistakes on the descriptions. The translation is not exactly professional quality (don't ask me why) and this is a rather complicated subject that I only have introductory knowledge of the subject, so I hope my errors will be forgiven.

All the applications are rather old. He may have things on file with the Korean Intellectual Property Office, just not published yet for public review. The fact he has been silent in trying to obtain rights since 2001 agrees with his claims of poverty previously mentioned on this board (I would estimate these eight filings alone totaled fees of at least a quarter of a million US dollars).

I give a brief summary below. However I want to point out a few things to put it into context. The last one is perhaps the most important. Hwang once filed a patent for making human stem cells. This was rejected by the Korean Intellectual Property Office (for reasons unknown, common under Korean practice). This patent was filed all the way back in 2000, and if you look closely at the others and estimate, it was based on research his team did in the early 90's. Now for the interesting part.

Hwang has done work in human stem cell cloning since the early 90's. He was so sure of his work (proven or not) that he filed for a patent, which was rejected. Perhaps KIPO, or rather the examiner, doubted Hwang's work applicability to human stem cells back then (this is supported by the fact that KIPO rejected a very simular patent for cloning a tiger in the same timeframe).  

The most interesting part of this is the names. On his human stem cell application in 2000, Hwang listed these names as inventors:

Hwang Woo-Suk*
Lee Byeong-chon*
Han Jae-yong
Park Jong-im
Yong Hwan-yul
Cho Jong-gi
Kim Ki-yoen
Shin Su-jeong
Choi Yunhui
Koh Bong-kyong
Lee Eun-song
Shin Tae-yeong
Song Gil-yeong

The funny thing is only the asterisked names are the one mentioned as authors in the Science article. Further nobody from the Mizmedi team is there (not even Dr. Noh who got the famous bumper crop of eggs for Hwang, and second listed author for the Science article).

One could say that the change of research team members is normal. However when considering what is coming out about Hwang's relationship with his current "Science Article" team, one has to wonder about his relationship with this group. Did Hwang leave for normal reasons? Or did he leave because his earlier stem cell group was not pliable enough to help out with egg donations or faking research? A story may be had in interviewing the crew mentioned above.

Anyway, an overview of the translations:

Application: 1020000036742 (hereinafter #42)
Filed: June 2000
Status: Registered
Overview: A method for cloning an animal using a harvested egg and somatic cells. Part of the invention includes a cloned cow.
Comment: It could very well be the translation, but the translation leads me to think that the entire ovary needs to be harvested to extract the egg. This could be said for many of Hwang's applications here. Again, I think this is mistranslation.

Application: 1020000004381 (hereinafter #81)
Filed: January 2000
Status: Rejected
Overview: A method for cloning a tiger using a harvested egg and cell from a tiger's ear (unclear what type of cell).
Comment: Similar in many respects to #42

Application: 101999031529 (hereinafter #29)
Filed: July 1999
Status: Registered
Overview: A method for activating a cloned cell (i.e. to make it preformed like a normal embryo).
Comment: Different method from #42. Capstone of #27 and #28 below, in effect the basic steps for cloning. This is a rahter specific method stated in the claims and specification. This indicates a rather narrow patent based mostly off of another work.

Application: 1019990031527(hereinafter #27)
Filed: July 1999
Status: Registered
Overview: A method patent for enucleation (removing a nucleus inside a cell)
Comment: Related to #29. Again, rather specific, indicates a narrow patent

Application: 1019990031528 (hereinafter #28)
Filed: July 1999
Status: Registered
Overview: A method for cell fusion (combining to cells, normally cross species)
Comment: Related to #29. Again, rather specific, indicates a narrow patent.
Application: 1019990031530 (hereinafter #30)
Filed: July 1999
Status: Withdrawn
Overview: Same content as #42
Comment: #42 claims priority (claims official disclosure date) based on this application. The only difference I can find is this one had one less inventor than the registered #42 (A Song Gil-yeong was included in #42).  A dispute  over who was the invention could be the reason for the withdrawal.

Application: 10-2000-000482 (hereinafter #82)
Filed: January 2000
Status: Abandoned
Overview: Same content as #81
Comment: I think this was an application that was revived as #81 above. Similar in a way to the case of #30. However the interesting part is the inventors. While the new version of the other patent added a name, the new version of this one deleted names. Inventors Song Gil-yeong and Lee Byeong-dong are included in #82 but disappear in #81.

Application: 10-2000-003774 (hereinafter #74)
Filed: July 2000
Status: Rejected
Overview: A method to create patient specific stem cells in a manner similar to #42, #82, #30, and #82.
Comment: This perhaps is the smoking gun of sorts. I have not read the Science article, but everything leads me to believe that this was the method used.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sonata of doubt

Over at the Lost Nomad an interesting dicussion has broken out over rankings for the Hyundai Sonata. Apparently the MSN car information page carries a pleasant review of the car. What got my attention was the rankings for individual qualities that seemed a little inflated to me. Additionally somebody posted a comment from a man complementing the noise level of his car, and then follows that up with noise data he collected from the Internet. This really raised the sirens in my head.

I bring this out because this is again a case of Korean company that has to overcome a considerable liability of perception, at least in my mind. Some points:

1. First like I said, it was an online poll of people who are supposedly Sonata owners. To put it bluntly, Korea's internet community has a history of being able to whip up support in order to skew a poll and start other internet acts of activism. In an extreme case, consider Olympic Games' servers crashing over a protest over Apollo Ohno. It is difficult for me to be belive such a open poll with a relatively small sample size as a true measure of customer opinion, especially considering the former influence.

2. Secondly, has anybody actualy tried to find the noise stats listed in the comment posted? I tried on the Hyundai site to get the spec, I figured it would easiest there. After a few clicks I realized that such data was buried. This would lead me to believe that such statistic was obscure. Accordingly this fellow is either really passionate about proving the noise level of his Hyundai versus others, or is simply a shill for the company.

3. Finally, one has to wonder if the numbers Hyundai gives are real. Consider this, last year Hyundai in the US settled a class action law suit brought by people who claimed the company misstated the horsepower of their cars. Hyundai payed over US$85 million to settle the case.

In a final thought, I got a good guffaw over this line "Opinions are just that, subjective opinions. In this case, the amount of noise level measured in decibals. Now that is not subjective." Oh, if you have scientific sounding data to offer it MUST be true? I would love to know what Seoul National University thinks of that argument these days.

I am sure Hyundai has some cars that are at least better than where they were in the mid-to-late 80s. The data on the site may in fact be 100% valid. However it will take sometime for me to believe an opinion from the Internet, especially on a subject that is a source of national pride for Korea.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hwang's Success Rate and Another Technicality

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice or proper opinion. I am simply some idiot trying to make sense of things. Please consult proper legal counsel before making any decision.)

I am working on getting english abstracts of Hwang Woo-suk's patents still, but a look over the Korean database yields some interesting information:

A. Mr. Hwang filed for 8 patents in Korea (as PCT's) so far.
B. 4 Have been registered
C. 1 Was withdrawn
D. 1 Was abandoned
E. 2 Were rejected.

Hwang apparently is only suceeding in getting patents half the time. Considering each patent takes tens of thousands to register this is not a good average. No wonder at one time he was crying poverty in his efforts to patent his work. Most of the investment community did not see much good in him pre-Hwang-mania. Perhaps the inability to prove his work patentable half the time was a harbinger of his current problems.
Finally, going back to the Korean Patent Law, there is another important passage I forgot to cite. Article 116 deals with cancelation of a patent due to it not being worked in Korea for two years. Now I am not going to deal with the details, and they are somewhat unimportant (it deals mainly with the compulsatory licencing laws in Korea). The main point of this is if the invention has not been worked in Korea for two years the Korean Intellectual Property Office can extingish the patent ex officio (by its own impetus), or upon request. Assuming Hwang's patents are unworkable, obviously nobody can work them in Korea, and therefore KIPO has the right to extiguish them (however they are not required). 

As I recall, most of the patents above were granted in '03. If somebody wanted to be a bother....

Are you a real American?

Marmot's uncovering of Finnish authorities asking questions to separate "real" Koreans from the rabble is funny. I am reminded when I registered the birth of my daughter at the US Embassy and they asked me to prove I lived in the US for five years. All I could offer was "Er I like Hot Dogs? The Mets won the World Series in '68?"

I was looking at some of the questions provided by the Chosun in the article. Can you imagine the questions being put into a US context, and how many Americans would be stymied at the Finnish border:

Finn: What is America's second largest city?

American: population or area? Are we counting City or Metropolitan Area? Well does not matter, I don't know.

F: Write the name of the President of the United States.

A: There!

F: I am sorry Al Gore is not president.

A: That blank sheet of paper you asked me to write on is confusing!  I demand a recount you right wing ideologue!

F: Where is Mt. McKinley?

A: Oh I know this one! I went there as a kid...umm...its the one with the Presidents on it. You know, Washington, Ben Franklin, Kennedy, and what's his face. Arizona!

F: What sport does Shaq play?

A: Sorry, I don't listen to rap.

F: You have proven yourself ignorant of all aspects of American geography, history, and culture, you must be an American! Welcome to Finland!

This all reminds me of a funny line of thought I had the other day, we have funny threatening questions in America. Lines in other places that are totally innocuous in most parts of the world carry some frighteningly hostile intentions. I ask you, which line is more threatening to an American:

1. You mind if I look around the car sir?
2. Do you think your better than me?
3. Do you think your country?
4. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Skateboarding is not a crime...

...but using "ollie" might be.

Hwang, his patents, and the future

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice or proper opinion. I am simply some idiot trying to make sense of things. Please consult proper legal counsel before making any decision.)

Yesterday I had a conversation with a blogger that made me realize I should have better defined a few points on my discussion recently on Hwang Woo-suk's patent portfolio in light of his fall from grace.

I stand by what I earlier asserted. According to Korean patent law, there is nothing that specifically prevents him from holding his patents, no matter how fake his research is. The patent covers the idea, not the implementation. Because Hwang's ideas are patented it does not matter if his invention is workable or if his work is fraudulent.

For example, let us say you patent an invention for flying. This invention consists of two large feathered wings you tie to your arms and flap in rapid succession while running off a cliff. This may very well be a patented idea (suspending the obvious prior art problems), and arguably scientifically valid. However, you are unable to work the invention, every time you jump off a cliff you break your arm. Your failure though does not take away from the fact you thought of an original idea that is scientifically possible.

However is it PLAUSIBLE? Is your idea commercially valid in such a manner your patent is valid? If somebody else makes it work, they may owe you a royalty. However if nobody can make it work, your patent (while valid) is useless. This is the quandary Hwang may be in right now,  if nobody can replicate (work) is experiments (invention) his patents may be useless.

Ironically, this may insure Hwang's patents stay valid. Ex officio (state sponsored) patent invalidation trials are unprecedented in Korea.  The only way Hwang will likely get his patents invalidated is if somebody takes the cost and time to file for trial. However for somebody to make such an investment (we can be talking about tens of thousands of US dollars), there would need to be a clear commercial benefit. However if the patents are worthless, there are no need to challenge them. Ipso facto, worthless patents stay valid.

There is a very important caveat to this, it depends how the patent is written. One of the assumptions of the above is the abstract "Hwang Patent" closely mimics his research. Unfortunately, life is always so neat. Patent claims are usually written in the broadest manner possible so as the recipient can claim any variety of things as related to his invention, and  thereby make the invention more valuable.

To go back to the feathered wing example, what if the patent read "A method to achieve flight using wings and forward motion"? Well this patent would cover everything with wings from airplanes to hang gliding. This would make the patent more valuable.

Now we get into the legal nitty-gritty, or as former President Bill Clinton famous said, "It depends what your definition of 'is' is". On one hand, the fact they are valuable make them more vulnerable to cancelation trials. On the other the broadness of the patent separates itself from the repudiated experimental work thereby strengthing the patent. In short, Hwangs commercial fate lies in the details.

Finally, something has to be said about the halo effect (for lack of a better metaphor). An article in the Joongang discusses the tailspin the local biotech industry is in. This perhaps is the greatest impact of Hwangs fakes, it will make everyone doubt the work of other Koreans. In the academic word, this manifests as skepticism, however in the commercial world it translates as risk. If you are investing billions on unproven technology and primary research you want as little risk as possible. Perhaps the real sad thing is not the fortune of some scientist, or Korea's national pride, it is the opportunity costs of it all. One talks about the "Korean Discount" in the stock market (the discount Korean stock have due to the risk of opaque practices) in cold cash terms, however a "Korean Discount" in the field of biotech may be the loss of a cure for something.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Infringement Pixar's Little Nemo

Infringement Pixar's Little Nemo
Originally uploaded by Drambuie_man.
What is more disturbing is these products were not only being spotted at a major hypermarket, but were being sold under that store's brand name. This last fact that they went over quite a few checks, yet nobody could spot (or chose not to spot) the obvious fakes.

Korean Patent Tools to USA

I have not heard about this yet, but KIPO will be providing "patent screening tools" to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

I do not doubt the story, but I wonder what "patent screening tools" entail. We just got done working on  including Korea as part of the PCT minimum documentation for art searches. This could be part of this, if so its not that groundbreaking, it would simply be the proper set of software tools to search Korean data. It could also be a couple of other incidental tools we offer to any IPO for nothing.

On the the other hand, it could be something substantial, KIPO dose have the goods after all.

I may have to ask about this when I get back to my desk at KIPO to clear up the media created fog.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Solid Gold Dram_man

I went through my really old site the other day to pull out articles that others have said they liked and those I want to remember. Some notable posts saved:

Odd Insult
Slap on the wrist for Chester
response to Anti-Americanism
Hub of Northeast Fantasyland
Food Review - MRE
prostitution Statistics in Korea
Korean Stripper
Mexican Salad
American vs. Korean Attitudes
Korean Philosophy on White Collar Crime
Korean Food (Part I, Part II, Part IIIa, Part IIIb, Part IV, Photo Update, Mailbag, Footnote, Second Update)
My government in Action
Malthus Kim
That idiot Ben Afleck
Food shopping in Korea

Some of the links may be no good, also I apologize for some of the formatting being a bit off. I had some problems in cutting and pasting the HTML code, so some articles may look a bit funny. If I get around to it I may clean things up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Springtime for Tojo

In one of the funniest things I have heard a long time, a Korean production team will be showing the musical The Producers in Seoul.   The funny part will not be the show, but rather I can really see Koreans saying "Hey a musical about Nazi Germany, what I great idea! No wonder it was a big success!".

The funny type of respect Korea pays Nazis is something that will take a long time for me to get out of my head.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cancer of corruption

This post is more to remind myself, however it is obviously free for all to see.

An interesting little article appeared in the JoongAng Ilbo over the weekend. A publishing company decided to come out with an "authoritative" restaurant guide for Seoul. The key word here for the company is "authoritative" as they want the guide to be to the Seoul restaurant scene what Zagat is for New York.

Thats all fine in theory, however it runs smash-up against "Korean Culture" as some of the more enthusiastic apologizers like to call it. It simply works likes this:

Foreigner: "Isn't that dishonest"
Enthusiastic Local: "Well you just don't understand Korean Culture"

This was seen more recently in the start of the storm over Hwang Woo-suk and his procurement of egg cells. The conversation went as above, but with the foreigner saying "Isn't it unethical for junior researchers to donate eggs due to the potentials for abuse by their superiors". The answer was the same "Well you do not understand Korean Culture." In the end though, the locals had a point (well until this week anyway), the research got done and the advance was made. To use potential use a malapropism, "to make an omelet you need to break a few eggs."

In the wake of this, I want to bring back this "authoritative" restaurant guide idea. This is an idea who's time has come, considering Seoul's 12+ million people, its wish to appear "dynamic", and its wish to be the hub of at least something. However as I said the dream smashes against Korean culture, specifically the history of paying for favorable coverage. In short this article is a perfect microcosm of the problem.

On one hand you have the "Culture" of companies paying for favorable coverage from newspapers. This is not done as an obvious paid advertisement or a specifically marked section of the paper. This is done normally as normal articles. I remember with some glee about a rather lavish review about a BMW  juxtaposed on the other side of the page of an op-ed piece calling for more responsible journalism. I shot coffee out my nose that day.

Then you have the "Culture" of restaurants paying for favorable reviews. For a while now I have been pressuring a friend of mine to savage a restaurant his publication reviews just so they can gain credibility. He points out that all the restaurants they review are advertisers, making them mad is not good for future ad sales. Second, he notes, his publication and investors do not really want to hear from an irate restaurant that makes noise because it feels like it was singled out. To take another example, it is the restaurants who pay to be featured in all those glossy food TV shows with the annoying graphics, stupid grade-b celebrities, and enough recorded "OOOOOHs!" to make you want to throw your shoe at the TV.

So put these together an you have a perfect microcosm of the problem. Here you have a woman, chances are, paying to be in newspaper so something nice is said about her book. In turn, this woman is, chances are, accepting payment so the restaurants can be sure to get a high rating in the book. Even if this is not going on, "Korean Culture" makes me think this is a high possibility.

The ultimate problem, and why I want to record all this somewhere, is that this "Culture" makes what the woman says she wants to do, to create an authoritative restaurant guide to Seoul, an almost impossible task. Criticism can be seen as possible sour grapes for not paying enough, and lavish complements can be seen as possibly doing what is required for the money given. Er go all criticism is tainted, none of it is seen an honest, nobody knows what really is bad and what really is good, and finally you have the stagnation of the restaurant culture in Korea.

Welcome to "Dynamic Korea"

Hwang Woo-suk, the real questions

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice or proper opinion. I am simply some idiot trying to make sense of things. Please consult proper legal counsel before making any decision.)

One of the discussions missing from the brouhaha over Dr. Hwang's "faked" research is, "What about his patents?" This is not a trivial footnote for Korea. One, if not the only, reason praise and research money was heaped upon Hwang was that he was emblematic of Korea's goal to become a "Knowledge Economy". Fueled by Dr. Hwang mania, Korea hoped the "World Stem Cell Hub" would become a patent factory capable of eliminating the licensing trade deficit Korea is constantly fretting over (the most recent hand-wringing  can be found here).

Hwang currently has about 10 patents, or applications, on file with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). From what I can tell, all are PCT applications, or in layman's terms applications that will eventually (or hopefully) receive a string of patents worldwide in order to protect the invention around the world. Some of the ten have been granted patents in Korea already.

Incidentally one has already received a US patent (US Pat.No. 6,590,139), "Method for producing cloned cows". As an interesting aside, this application was filled with KIPO back in June 2000. This conflicts with his claims in December 2004 of him being too poor to get any patent. Apparently he has always access to some capital.

The exact dispositions of an individual application is immaterial for this post. However I will try to get an english language summary of the 10 or so patents Hwang and his team have filed for. What I wonder about is, in a general sense, does the possibly that Hwang faked his research effect his patents.

Under Korean Patent Law (you can find the text, in English, on KIPO's English website), I cannot find any text requiring that the invention must be worked, or that is must be proven that it could be worked (at one time many patent offices worldwide required a working prototype ). However there are some areas worth citing:

"The detailed explanation of the invention...must state the purpose, construction, and the effect of invention in such a manner that it may be easily carried out by a person with ordinary skill in the art..." Korean Patent Law, Article 42, Paragraph 3.

Under this, Hwang must state his invention so as another scientists can replicate it. In a manner this is being confirmed now by scientists worldwide based on his Nature article. However note it still does not say that the invention needs to work in the first place, only simply it needs to be described so one could create and work it. However if other scientist cannot recreate his research, or even himself, one could argue against patentability.

As I think about the case, I am reminded of one of the more elemental parts of Korean Patent Law:

"'Invention' means the highly advanced creation of a technical idea using the rules of nature;" Korean Patent Law, Article 2, Paragraph 1

The key part of this is "using the rules of nature". For example, I cannot patent a perpetual motion machine since it would violate the second law of thermodynamics as well as Newton's Third Law (excuse me if there are errors, my degree was in economics). Accordingly if Hwang's patent, or application, has procedures that violate the laws of science, there may be problems. This argument may be esoteric, but relevant.

Finally as a bit of side note, Articles 226 and 228 of Korean Patent Law deal with respectively penalties for applying for a patent (successfully or not) using perjury and fraud. I wonder if these will be invoked based on the specifics of the application/patent.

Stay tuned, I hope to have more detailed info on Hwang's patents soon.

"Don't worry folks, it's normal."

In the aftermath of the Korean farmer riot in Hong Kong comes this amusing quote:

[A Korean resident of Hong Kong] told the JoongAng Daily on the telephone that she was already facing questions. "People that I know came up to me and asked why the protests had to be so violent and whether that was normal in Korea," she said.

I think we all know the answer to this one. There is no mistaking the ubiquitous riot police buses in Seoul. Reminds me of a story.

A couple years ago I was walking down stairs to the Kwangwhamun subway station in the heart of Seoul. As I descended from the top, a young foreign couple who had "tourist" written all over them was ascending. They were fumbling with a map discussing geography as they suddenly looked up to the top.

There the saw me flanked with the two riot police guards normally posted at the top of any Kwangwhamun entrance. Behind me was a demonstration of some sort with the standard headbands and somebody shouting at the top of their lungs though a tinny speaker on a minivan. The young couple looked up, wide eyed, mouths agape, and totally fearful of the picture of impending doom awaiting them.

Noticing their discomfort at the scene, I gave them the only advice I could as I passed by, "Don't worry folks, it's normal."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Amusing Headlines in Korea

Spanish firm to build wind-power complex
FInaly a the National Assembly will be forced to do something productive.

Korea a world beater in bacteria discoveries 
So Korea is a "master"-beater?

Samsung wants piece of Japan's phone pie
Mmmmm! Japanese Phone Pie! Do you buy it by the #?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A couple stories and an insight

A couple of articles to put together to come up with something interesting. Last month there was an article in the  Korea Times about Korean loses due to the illegal downloading of Korean movies. A study released by the Korean Film Council put loses in 2004 at 280 billion  won (about US$260 million). You can click to see the details of the study, but the disturbing element is the DVD market. The study put the DVD market in Korea at 100 billion won, and loses in the area at 28.5 billion. If you do the math you get the statistic that between 25-30% of DVD viewers (or more precise possible viewers) get a copy from the Internet. Add to this number to people who by fake DVD's and you get a pretty hefty segment of the market that see pirated wares over authentic. (The cynic in me notes that the statistics in this report are for Korean films only, one can only guess how foreign movies skew things).

Another little tidbit comes from a story about a Uri party lawmaker trying to trumpet a plan to crack down on illegal file swapping on line. The bill is essentially ho-hum (click if if you want), however I would like to use it to point out a greater problem in Korea. The proposal would make an ISP liable for not stopping users from swapping files. If they fail to do so, they can be fined up to 50 million won. Now lets do a little math. First let us assume the maximum penalty. For the sake of simplicity, lets take the only four ISP's of note in Korea (KT, Hanaro, Powercomm, and Dacom). If we were to assume that the losses from film downloads alone were spread equally, that means each ISP, under this bill, would be "responsible" for 70 billion in losses (Again I remind you that figure does not include foreign films or the larger category of online music which they would be responsible for as well). In any case the penalty to loss ratio is .001, I ask you does that really sound like a penalty? This is the modus operandi for most Korean fines, the time rarely fits the crime economically speaking.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Copyright Sidewhow

An interesting little story of a North Korean author trying to get is copyright in Korea enforced. What I find odd is really the author does not own the copyright but the "Foundation of Inter-Korean Cooperation", a North Korean government organization, yet the Korea Times plays up the author. I will be willing to bet a 10,000 won bill that Mr. Hong, the author, will not recive anythign more than a rusty old Japanese bicycle.

This brings up something that amuses me at my law firm. Every so often we get foreign companies (many who should no better) asking us to obtain patent or trademark rights in North Korea.  Its an odd intersection since, as the article points out, technicaly speaking South Korean law is applicable to the North. So I would think a trademark or patent issued in the South is valid in the North. 

However I wonder if this effort will eventually create some sort of jurisdictional precedent for pursing cases in regards to North Korea. Could one sue the North Korean government/companies/organizations for infringement of South Korean rights in South Korean courts? How will the courts, traditionally a conservative body, react to case that would certainly be contrary to "Unification" as defined by the leftists on the peninsula?

Our "Allies" the South Koreans

"Countries need to the wisdom to control themselves when making
comments on dialogue partners"
- South Korean Minister Ban Ki-Moon

Now who could Mr. Ban be talking about? North Korea's threat to turn
Seoul into a "Sea of Fire"? Or any of the famous North Korean

Of course not, its a comment on a statement of fact that currency
counterfeiter and illicit drug exporter is a "Criminal Regime" by Mr.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Well This Explains A Lot

For the most part I have a favorable view of the Korean Intellectual Property Office (the Korean government office that registers patents and trademarks). However somethings make me doubt I should have this view.

One of those doubts arises from trademark registrations. There are quite a few registered trademarks that make me scratch my head and wonder how that got registered considering how similar it to a famous mark. Friday there was a Joongang Ilbo article discussing this problem. It has this unfortunate statement:

 For products such as clothes and shoes that have a relatively short shelf life...the agency says it grants trademarks without a formal review process.

Accompanying the article is photo showing some real registrations with an uncanny resemblance to the brands Louis Vitton and MCM. The article also discusses similar chicanery regarding marks for Fendi and Gucci. Finaly, it is worth of note that they reporter is likely to be confusing trademarks with design models. Regardless of the exact legality however, I have the same feelings on this issue as it is obviously not working, and is leading to some pretty shocking things.

A few thoughts:

1. KIPO's argument is essentially false. None of the cited companies that fell victim to this in the article have brands "with a relatively short shelf life". Further, the article even mentions that such an area is only part of the problem, wrapping paper was another cited area where KIPO admits it applies the same faulty policy.

2. Arguments not withstanding, why the hell would they do this in a very visible area such as clothing? Not only are fakes such as these obvious and tacky, they are railed against regularly by the industry. They do stuff like this in a profile area, do so of their own admission, and then are offended when foreigners think Korea has weak intellectual property protection. 

3. The brand quoted in the article are world wide famous brands. Most likely those not cited in the article are obviously famous brands as well. I think the copy would be immediately obvious. I hope to post the picture here, but it would take a complete imbecile not to see the chicanery that went on in registering the dubious MCM and Louis Vitton marks in the article. In short, things like this make KIPO look incompetent.
How long did it take you to spot the fake? Apparently it takes too long for KIPO.

4. I could be a little non-PC and point out that all the marks cited were foreign marks. Then Korea wonders why foreign think they cant get a fair brake in Korea when it seems (at least from this article) that foreign marks not only have their precedence ignored but it is KIPO policy to do so.

5. The most disturbing thing, and I mention this a couple times above, stuff like this undercuts Korea's position a and claims as a leader in the field of intellectual property. Stuff like this not only embarrasses the country and business environment but directly makes KIPO look before the international community as corrupt, incompetent, or both.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Help Needed

One reason for my delay in posting and changing blogs was due to
learning the new interface. I got down parts of it, but if any of you
can tell me how to update my links section to the right I would be

Ground Rules

I have been asked by a reader I recently met in person to publicly
comment on a rather major Korea Fair Trade Commission case. This post is mostly for him so he does not think I am blowing him off.

I make it a rule on my blog not to comment on cases I am, or were,
involved in. Even if aspects about the case are public. The case in
question I am, or rather my firm is, distantly related to the case.