Wednesday, May 30, 2007

At least he didn't try "Rally Monkey"

One of the invaluable blogs I read is the Trademark Blog, due to him I was forced to take a closer look at a case involving the time I grew up literally a couple blocks from the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. To my surprise a recent UDRP decision denied the transfer of "" from a Korean national to the team.

As I do with any person who is a possible squatter/bad-faith registrant, I immediately plugged in the Korean's name, Lee Dong Yeon into the Korean trademark database. Now while it was tricky to prove bad faith, if indeed there was, on the part of Mr. Lee it is interesting to note the man, at least, filed in Korea for the mark Sandy Lyle for golf. Hmmm...

Monday, May 28, 2007


As soon as I find some time I plan to comment a bit further on this, but the Korea Times has a list of some of the IP provisions in the KORUS FTA. One thing to note in passing is that many of the copyright changes will be changed by the Copyright law revisions coming into effect this year.

New Korean Copyright Law To Increase Muzak

The Korea Times notes an interesting side effect to the new Copyright Law in Korea:

As the revised music copyright law takes effect next month, stores will be banned from playing any illegally downloaded music, which introduces an up and coming market of background music providers.

"We're expecting to see sales rise as business owners don't want to run into any legal issues,'' said a PR official at KT Shopcast, a music provider for enterprises of all sizes. 

Friday, May 25, 2007

Female Smugglers Rising

In either a food for thought, or simply trivial, a dispatch the Joongang Ilbo comments on the growing number of women smuggling largely counterfeit merchandise into Korea:

The number of smugglers entering Korea is up 52 percent in the last five years and young, female smugglers are on the rise, the customs service reported.

The Korea Customs Service said yesterday the number of smugglers rose to 5,433 in 2006 from 3,574 in 2001. The most smugglers were in their 40s in 2001, but in 2006 smugglers in their 30s or younger were the largest group at 38 percent. 

The number of male smugglers rose 16 percent, but the number of female smugglers jumped 40 percent. In 2006, female smugglers made up 22.7 percent of all smugglers. The products smuggled included original and fake luxury goods and gold bars.

"With high demand for luxury products, young people are trying to strike it rich selling counterfeits as original products," said Kim Su-won, an employee at the research department at the service.

The customs agency said that with the development of the Internet, young smugglers are selling counterfeits through Internet shopping malls or auction sites.

Google Accused of Copying and Recruiting Korean Spies

The Korean media is a twitter about aspects of Google's Korean business practices:

Google is accused of imitating Korean services after the world's top Internet search engine came up with a pair of applications similar to those of local Web portals this month.

Two recent Google introductions suspected of this are a "universal search'' unveiled last week and a "daily list of 100 fastest-gaining queries'' disclosed this week....

That is what Korea's so-called integrated search, which was launched by the country's primary Internet portal Naver midway through 2000, is all about.

The real bombshell was in the Financial News, which is translated via the JoongAng Ilbo. Google may be recruiting people to spy on companies:

Local media are also accusing Google of trying to convert researchers into industrial spies. 

The Financial News quoted two employees, both of whom worked for local Internet companies. 

One employee, who declined to be identified, said that in an interview for Google Korea's research and development center, the interviewers asked about the details of the program the employee was working on. Another worker said that Google Korea interviewers asked about the problems of search software as well as other questions on key technology. The interviews took seven hours, the worker said. Both sources said that, after the interviews, they felt like industrial spies. 

Google's interviewers also allegedly told applicants that if they submitted the names of the five best developers in their company, that would give them an advantage in recruitment.

The first one seems more like sour grapes of a competitive market. Perhaps the real question is not why Google is doing it, but rather if its such revolutionary competitive edge, why hasn't Naver been able to bring it outside Korea. The last one thought is rather interesting, if not troubling. Is another trade secret theft scandal in the works?

Plagiarism in Korean Academia

The Dong-A Ilbo comments on Seoul National University's drive to clamp down on plagiarism in the school. In the article a number of deans and professors at Nation's top school discuss some of the cases they caught. Interestingly though is they do not really mention the punishments. Most notably is the threat of expulsion, but no mention if that indeed has ever been carried out.

Another interesting thing is how the article starts off:

Along with the increasing number of university professors who strictly discipline students who plagiarize, it has been confirmed that Seoul National University (SNU) professors have recently taken disciplinary actions against a number of students who submitted papers that were plagiarized.

One of the more disturbing dimensions to this is many students are only doing what their role model professors are doing. Most notable recently was the head of Korea University (the nations number three school) resigned once it was revealed he plagiarized some of his academic papers. A bit more disturbing in the case though was he actually won a vote of confidence from the faculty in the wake of the scandal. 

And that is actually typical here. The past few years have seen a number of professors, and even government education ministry officials caught up in plagiarism scandals. I tend to discard the oft repeated foreigner theory of Korea failing to "understand" intellectual property in theory, however stories like this make me second guess my conclusion.

In researching this post, I ran across a funny little story and quote:

Ma Kwang-soo, a professor at Yonsei University, will be barred from teaching classes this coming semester due to charges of plagiarism, according to the Yonsei University Disciplinary Committee. The suspension will last for two months...Last April Mr. Ma published a book of poems that included one written by a former student in 1983, which he claimed as his own..."used the poem because I felt it was a pity that someone else's poem was going undiscovered, but it turned out to be a mistake." 
Mr. Ma continued: "I thought I might plagiarize because I couldn't write poetry, but I tried it for a month and was able to write 80 poems easily. I plan to write a book this semester."

You know I could write 80 poems easily as well, it does not mean they would be any good. Further, He "thought he might plagiarize", yet by his own admission he used somebody else's poem. I wonder if he understands the concept? I also love the quote "I felt it was a pity that somebody else's poem was going undiscovered". Really Mr. Ma? It seems more you were more worried about it not being discovered as YOUR poem. Seriously how hard would it be to track down the student through the alumni network and get approval if you were really worried about only the poem being "discovered".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Popular TV and Piracy in Korea

The Yonhap has a story about the popularity of US dramas in Korea. It eventually comes up with the obvious, how they get them:

Popular shows include "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," "Heroes," "Smallville," "House," "Lost," "Sex and the City," "Rome," and dozens more.

Even though some of them have aired or are scheduled on South Korean public networks, most of them have won their popularity through unconventional means, using the underdog Internet and cable TV.

That Internet and cable route to popularity works in South Korea, because about a third of the county's 49 million people have access to high-speed Internet connections at home and over 80 percent subscribe to cable TV.

A recent poll of 114 college students by a local newspaper showed 72 percent of them enjoy watching U.S. dramas. Forty-four percent of the viewers said they take the episodes off peer-to-peer Web sites, while 48 percent said they watch the dramas on cable TV.

A couple things about that last paragraph. Its interesting how they just lump together p2p sites with hosting services (e.g. Webhard). I wonder why. The statistics are a bit worthless for extrapolation. A sample of "114 college students by a local newspaper" is not only insufficiently large it is likely rife with possible sample errors. That aside, the numbers do not add up. There is an unaccounted for 8%, this could be DVD sales (both legal and illegal). Just a passing thought on the remainder.

Meanwhile, the upcoming changes in the Korea Copyright Law may give a good tool to copyright holders. Rights holders can request ISP to block access to infringing materials. I say may because like many laws here, what matters is the enforcement and judicial interpretation of these provisions. How long does the ISP have to act? How long must they continue to block? What forms of effective relief can be applied for if the ISP fails to act, or act in a timely manner? Anyway you get the idea. If anybody knows the answer to some of these questions, please comment (copyrights are not my regular beat).

Incidentally, much like I covered on my recent drug posting, the KORUS FTA could alleviate some of these problems. There are the obvious IP provisions, however what makes me wonder is the access. The FTA will crack open the broadcast market a bit. I wonder if this will eventually get greater distribution of US content in Korea. Thus lessening the urge, or need in some cases, to download.

The article also has obligatory quotes about how Korea is "threatened" by the popularity of such shows. 

"We feel threatened," said Park Jin-suk, a producer at a local TV station. "But you have to admit American shows are backed by a whole different production system that is fueled by huge amounts of U.S. capital."

According to Park, a typical episode for a U.S. drama would cost about the same as a whole Korean series. Some analysts suggest one U.S. series requires an average of 25 times more investment than a Korean one.

Of course money is not everything Mr. Park in a creative enterprise.  Consider all the flops are shown every year on US TV, also consider "Friends", still one of the more popular shows here, is a very inexpensively produced sitcom (not including wages obviously). However the article goes on to show there is a market opportunity people like Mr. Park could exploit:

"Too much sex," said Lee Dong-woo, a college student who watches "Grey's Anatomy," a medical drama about a group of intern surgeons. "They all end up getting connected in one way or another in a tangle of sexual relationships. Unrealistic."

"There's also an excessive display of American patriotism," argued Jeong Ji-wook, a 34-year-old company worker who watches "24," a series about a man trying to save the U.S. President from Arab terrorists. "If you're American, you're good, and the rest are just a bunch of bad guys."

On the other hand though is this article in the Chosun Ilbo cites criticism that Korean drama's are all the same, in a similar vein are Chun Su Jin's TV reviews in the Joongang Ilbo (which are delightfully redundant because Korean TV to her is redundant). Maybe Korean TV needs to be more creative to be competitive, not better funded.

Monday, May 21, 2007

LG tries to crackdown on fake phones overseas

An interesting little article on LG's efforts to protect their phone designs overseas, mainly China, Dubai, and Europe.

LG Electronics discovered last month that a phone called "Diamond," an imitation of its "Shine" phone, was being sold in China and Europe via the Internet, and it moved to put a stop to sales of the product. It is currently preparing a suit against the maker of the phone.

According to the LG Group, the number of cases in which the LG brand and design was misused increased in China from five cases in 2005 to 39 cases last year; in Dubai, there was only one case in 2005, but six cases last year.

Another theft, this time POSCO and WiBro

Korea's Prosecutors Office again busts a major trade secret theft. This time its at Posdata, the IT and telecom arm of Korean steel giant POSCO. To borrow from articles at the Dong-A Ilbo and Korea Times, you can piece together the story:

The prosecutors believes that three former engineers at Posdata's U.S. R&D center, including the director of the R&D center, were involved in selling the technology. The prosecution is summoning them to Korea in collaboration with U.S. authorities.

After establishing an Internet tech company, identified as [InQuadron], in the U.S. in December, Kim was fired by Posdata in March. Posdata researchers who were close to Kim then allegedly stole core WiBro technologies from Posdata by using external hard discs and e-mail starting last October to March. They then left Posdata to work for the Korea branch of [InQuadron in Bundang].

"They tried to entice 20 or more Posdata workers to steal all the source technology of WiBro. Then, they hoped to earn 180 billion won by selling InQuadron to a U.S. telecom firm,''[Prosecutor] Lee said.

However, they failed to take the stolen technology to the InQuadron head office in Silicon Valley, Lee said. The prosecution has already indicted four suspects and is seeks to prosecute three more. 

One thing I cannot understand is why Posdata did not get the prosecutors involved in the original theft that lead to Kim's firing. Another thing is the valuations of the data. Posdata says the data was potentially worth about USD 14 Billion, given the researchers was only selling it for a bit more than one percent of that.


Apparently the Korean papers are a little late to this party. This site notes that Postdata filed suit against InQuadron and a Kim SeYoung on May 10th. Apparently Kim was working with Posdata as late as 2005 based on this IEEE committee meeting. Also correct me if I am wrong, but isn't "Seyoung" a female Korean name? Anyway, perhaps I should not go further given Korean internet/privacy laws about posting public information.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lee Myung-bak, Korea's IP Defender?

For those of you reading this from far way, Korea is currently anticipating its next presidential election. One of the strong candidates is Lee Myung-bak who is a highly regarded former Mayor of Seoul. 

A couple days ago one of Lee's close aides, Chung Doo-un, made a rather public statement decrying the amount of IP theft from Korean companies:

Citing a compilation of data from the National Intelligence Service, Rep. Chung Doo-un of the Grand National Party said the damage was almost four times larger than the 26 trillion won in losses from industrial technology leaks from 1998-2003.

The rise "could be a loss not only to the companies themselves, but also to national competitiveness in this globalized world," the lawmaker told a parliamentary forum on the issue. 

While his comments are more international in nature, and are likely a bit of grandstanding in light of the recent high profile Kia Motor's IP theft, they do raise an interesting possibility. One of the more frustrating aspects in working in and with Korea is its reticence for the government to take a diplomatic stand vis-a-vis IP issues with foreign countries. I wonder if a Lee presidency could see Korea stepping up in this regard and joining the diplomatic front against countries who serially violate IP.

Generics and the FTA, and Pfizer's small victory

The Hankyoreh  (the Hani, locally) that picked up on something I have been saying to foreigners here for a long time. The KORUS FTA talk about Korea's proposed "positive list" system for the National Health Insurance Service to choose which drugs reimburse is actually an intellectual property issue. Actually the Hani does not cover it explicitly, but gets pretty close. Korean IP and regulatory law does not adequately protect drug patents.
The patent laws make it easy for companies to get around. You patent a specific treatment for the drug, not the drug itself. This makes it easy for a Korean firm to produce a generic version, and claim it's for a different condition. Further the effect could be interpreted by a number of government agencies as so narrow to accommodate such generics.
In addition Korea does not provide what is called "data exclusivity" for drug trials. That is to say the millions a drug firm will spend on drug trials are not the exclusive property of that firm. Meaning the generic maker can cite the affectivity of the sponsored drug trails in order do gain KFDA approval.
To add insult to injury, the KFDA requires that domestic tests be submitted. So if you spend millions to test the drug in Europe, you have to do it again in Korea according to the KFDA. So this invested data set is even more valuable for the company.
As you can expect, this amounted to a trade barrier for foreign drug firms. In many cases a generic could come out produced by a Korean firm. Add this to the fact that the National Health Insurance Service could add that cheaper generic to the positive list and not the proper rights holder, you have a situation where a huge market is shut out the company.
The recently concluded KORUS FTA was to deal with some these issues. The linked Hani article discusses how some companies are acting or reacting according to the changes. Also talked about in the news piece is the fact some companies are trying to use existing law to stop some of these shenanigans with varying success.
An interesting little final note is the Hani's mention of Anguk's production of a generic of Pfizer's Novasc. A couple months ago Seoul District Court ruled that Anguk's generic did violate Pfizer's patent on the drug. The court ruled that Anguk's version of Norvasc using a different type of saylatic salt had no noticeable differences from the stated effects in the patent (please excuse the chemical spellings if wrong). I do not know how broad or narrow the patent or ruling was, and this matter will likely end up in the Korean Supreme Court, but I thought it worth noting here. 

Korea as the fake hub

The EU Chamber of Commerce in Korea again bangs the gong we all know, Korea as a center for high quality IPR infringement:

To protect its international image the nation should "transition from the consumer's haven for highly sophisticated counterfeit goods to a country that has the strongest regulatory and statutory framework against IPR violators...," the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea said in a report.

There is "compelling evidence" that, as in other countries, there are links between small and medium-size counterfeit shops and gangs involved in money-laundering and drug trafficking, the chamber said. 

Nothing new here really, like I said its a gong we all know, just noting it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Korean Piracy? Whadda’goin’do?

The recent BSA survey on global software piracy supports an answer I give to a common question on IP in Korea, "If Korea's IP regime has changed so much in the past few years, why are violations of copyrights still common?"
One feature of the Korean system is that a rights holder has to take a large role in getting the law enforced (in fact this is true with a lot of Korean law). Companies have to sacrifice the time, effort, and money to protect them. The problem is the payout is rarely worth it when it comes to things like copyright infringement.
For example the BSA report, as the Chosun Ilbo writes:
According to the study, Korea's software piracy rate was 45 percent, which is one percentage point less than in 2005. But Korea's piracy rate is still 10 percentage points higher than the global average, ranking it 77th among 102 nations.
So piracy in Korea's piracy problem is worse than average (or better depending upon your perspective). However consider the following figures for the value of piracy in the BSA study:
US $7,289(mil)           
Japan 1,789           
Germany  1,642
China             5,429
UK              1,670           
France            2,676                       
Italy                1,403           
Spain                 865                       
Canada             784                       
India              1,275                       
Brazil             1,148                       
South Korea     440                       
Mexico              748                       
Russia            2,197                       
Australia            515                       
Netherlands      419                       
Switzerland       324                       
Belgium             222                       
Turkey                314                       
Sweden             313                       
(note: countries selected and ranked by the top 20 global economies based on this Wikipedia page)
As you can clearly see Korea's $440 million worth of piracy is not even in the top ten. So I ask you, if you were in charge of allocating resources to enforcement efforts in the World, how much money would you dedicate to Korea?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Copycat Make-up

The Korea Times has a piece today about local cosmetic manufacturers packaging and naming their product in a manner similar to famous names:

Some such items widely noticed by consumers are Skin Food Black Sugar Mask, which resembles the look and name of Fresh Face Sugar Mask. The same goes for Face Shop Gel Eyeliner, which is similar to Bobby Brown Gel Eyeliner, and Etude Mascara Fixer that looks and sounds like Clarins Fix Mascara.

A problem here is most of the seeming violations are not really violations at all. Yes there is a similarity in the naming, but its descriptive in nature. In fact the name "Fresh Face Sugar Mask" is probably unregistrable under Korean Trademark Law, because it is arguably descriptive. The "expert" quoted in the KT article gives a similar comment. However, I wonder how good KT's experts are given lines like this:

legal experts advise that some resemblance can be dangerous because of copyright issues.

Actually this a trade dress, and arguably a trademark, issue. A copyright has nothing to do with it! 

The more interesting quotes though are some of the consumers in the article:

Consumers welcome the resemblance local brands are offering because it opens more options for frugal shoppers reluctant to spend too much on cosmetic products.

``I know that local and foreign make-up quality can't be the same, but I think to some extent they are similar so I'm not complaining about the cheaper items offered in local stores,'' said Suh Hae-min, a 23-year-old office worker in Seoul.

Price differences vary from 10,000 won to as much as 30,000 won.

``I often buy Korean brands because they're less costly and when I have some extra cash, I invest in foundations and mascara made in Europe,'' said Kim Yoo-mi, a 26-year-old business consultant. 

Now compare that to this article of the past couple days:

The Commerce Ministry announced yesterday the results of a poll of 2,809 people in 21 countries, which said if a Korean product is worth $100, an American product of equal quality would be worth $149 and a German product $155...Korean products' brand image still lacks the lure of products from developed countries. The respondents also said that when a Korean product is valued at $100, a Japanese product would be worth $149 while a Chinese product would be $71. 

Now cosmetics are basically a non-cyclical product, its all the same chemicals no matter the name or inert color. So even Koreans are willing to spend much more on a similar product if its made overseas (in cosmetics at least). I could say something snarky about fakes, but let me just leave you with, perhaps Korea needs to learn brand building begins at home.

Canada Sites Korea as Fake Cigarette Exporter

I have commented quite a few times on fake cigarettes in Korea, the last time being here. Apprently the Royal Canadian Mounted Police finds Korea to be a major link in the logistics chain for fake cigarettes into Canada. Seems like the Korean Customs Serive needs to try harder at the ports.                                                                            

Anyway what he artice really reminds me of was a question I got from somebody, "Do you have some grudging respect for counterfeiters and the lenghts they go to?". Hard to have any respect when you read things like this:                                                       

Contraband cigarettes and tobacco that were seized in B.C. were found to have insect eggs, dead flies, mold, and even human feces! RCMP labs have been testing counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes that were seized in 2006, also found some cigarettes that were entirely stuffed with tobacco stems...Between 2003 and 2006, there has been 1,302 cigarette seizures which totals more than 177 million cartons, according to Canada Border Services Agency. The total value of those seizures was more than 32 million dollars. Typically illegal cigarettes enter B.C. via ports with China, Korea, and India as the major exporters.

Reminds me of the old line, "You got watch out what's in those things. They'll kill 'ya"

Another "program"

The Chosun reports another Korean government agency is offering a piracy reward program, this time done by the Korean Fair Commission. What I wonder is if this is just more press about a program, some what neglected, by the Customs Service which has also been co-opted by the Korean Intellectual Property Office.

No matter the former or the latter, due to details I am sure it will falter. I discussed the program with a few, and found out the reward is only given if the pirates are successfully prosecuted. Unfortunately successful criminal cases in these situations are rare due the normal level of interest by the rights holder, and the aversion in Korea for aggressive action (such as filing a criminal complaint). And as a last little kiss of death, I never got a clear answer about the reward. Technically its linked (at least in the former) with the value of the pirated goods seized, however I never got a clear answer if it was based on the projected value if the products were real, the "street" value of the fakes, or the value of the products if they were sold without infringing marks.

If anybody can clarify please do. I could make a good secondary income.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

CJ becomes a troll

I got scooped in this by a blog I write for as well. However I think this need a bit more of a treatment.

In an interesting new development, CJ Asset Management has decided to be come a patent troll. The company is starting up a fund centered around five "wireless technology" patents owned by anonymous government research institute. I use quotes since I have yet to see the patents and the patents used in these types of cases can be a little obscure as how they relate to the technology they are being targeted at. It seem that the suits will be filed in the US, and the ITC in particular.

While I encourage such stuff, I have a bad feeling about this particular case. The article indicates that the anonymous government agency has looked into enforcement before, only to find it "unable to pursue the issue because of costs". First it does not take that much money for a few C&D's to be shot off, and if the patents are pertinent companies have already learned its easier just to pay. However if the patents in question are not remotely applicable (or if they royalty is exorbitant), its better to fight. If the anonymous institute has already pursued this and has come to this point, it does not reflect flatteringly on the quality of the five patents. 

Second, I find this particularly interesting since the US is the target for the litigation. While patent issues are very expensive to litigate in the US, I find it hard to believe a US firm would turn down a contingency basis similar to the CJ offer if the research institute has a strong case.

Which leads us down a slightly darker path. If the chance of success on these cases are "iffy", what might that say about the quality of the patents. If a target of one of these suits really tries to fight, a common defense is to get the patent either narrowed or invalided completely. If such an act is taken, especially in light of the recent US Supreme Court ruling in KSR v. Teleflex, could this anonymous institute's patents be invalidated? I think CJ may be overplaying its hand.

Finally to get back to the other blog post mentioned before, the list of "targets" of the actions is rather interesting in that leaves out any Korean company. They could already be paying, or perhaps... Well depending on how this is done, it may end up feeding some of the questions about Korea's honesty regarding IP protection.

KIA's Secret Agent Men

The major IP news recently in Korea is the theft of trade secrets from KIA Motors by nine current and former employees who sold the information to China. A good summary of the case, and the worry about theft in general in Korea can be found here

I however have a profound measure of boredom for this case. A shocking amount of trade secret theft from Korean companies has been a constant low level news story for years. I commented on the phenomenon a year and half ago here. The above linked story gives a bit of an update on the NIS estimates quoted in my old post. It is also worth noting that these are REPORTED cases, who knows the numbers about the successful thefts or the foiled unreported ones? (one has to remember the "shame" to the company from such a theft).

One thing I can never understand about espionage, industrial or national, is things like this:

On Thursday, nine former and incumbent employees of Kia Motors, South Korea's No. 2 automaker, were indicted on charges of illegally transferring key carmaking technologies to China...Leaked technologies were then transferred to a Chinese automaker for payments of some 230 million won ($248,000).

So at least nine guys and US$248,000. Which means each betrayed a trust for a little over US$25,000 on average. Or perhaps more appropriate in this case, the cost of a new KIA sedan. Woefully under-compensated if you ask me.

Newly Fresh Chilled

An interesting little story in the JoongAng Ilbo talks about the use of the initials NFC on orange juice in Korea:

It isn't "not from concentrate," it's "newly fresh chilled." At least that's what the makers of Sunkist NFC, the orange juice distributed by Haitai Beverage Company, are trying to claim...The name NFC appears in big letters on their orange juice sold in Korea, implying it is an acronym for "not from concentrate." However, small letters below the label reads that the juice "is a delicious blend of 'from concentrate' and 'not from concentrate' orange juice."...The Korea patent office said Haitai registered the name only as a trademark, and if it says NFC means "newly fresh chilled," then legally the firm has done nothing wrong.

I wonder who the KIPO official is, since it may have screwed the pooch on that ruling. Korean Trademark Law, Article 7, Paragraph 1, line (xi):

"...trademark registration may not be obtained in the following cases...(xi) trademarks that are liable to mislead or deceive consumers on the quality of the goods."

Now that is the more direct one, however there is more. There is Haitai's theoretical liability under the Koran competition and labeling laws, wherein one could allege misleading consumers as to the nature of the goods. This allegation would be entirely separate from the ability to register such a mark by Haitai (i.e. NFC can be registered, but Haitai could not mislead consumers in it use of  the trademark).

Of course KIPO's defense on the issue could come down to two things:

1. The "consumer" defined are average Korean consumers, and they are not familiar with NFC as initials for "Not From Concentrate". Accordingly the trademark does not mislead consumers.

2. Even if the initials NFC have come to be understood as NFC, at the time it was registered they were not understood as such. In addition in this interim period Haitai has invested significant sums of money into the mark NFC, thus making it so famous that the public has associated NFC with Haitai's juice as well as what ever secondary associations (i.e. "Not From Concentrate").

Of course this is all theoretical, if anybody asked me, my first piece of advice is to forget about it. The mark has been around too long, and Haitai is too big. You might as well take US$100,000 and have a bond fire, it would be as about effective in fighting this in Korea.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Korea EU FTA stuck in "Scotch" Tape

In a rather amusing turn, the Korea Times has a story today where somebody figurative smacks their head and goes "oh yeah I forgot about that". In the upcoming Korea EU FTA negotiations apparently a major issue will be Geographic Indicators (GI), a subject always dear to the EU:

Geographical identification (GI), which restricts the usage of product names to those authentically produced in the place of origin, has risen as one of the key issues in the first round of the Korea-EU free trade talks that began Monday.

With the enforcement of GI status, domestic liquor players will no longer be able to use familiar names such as Cognac (a type of brandy produced in Cognac), Scotch Whiskey (made in Scotland) and Sherry Wine (produced in Spain) on locally-made alcohol products.

Technically speaking GI's are on the books in Korea, but they were only recently enacted and so there is limited regulatory framework in place to enforce the law. To complicate things, most, if not all, of the recognized GI's in Korea are for Korean products, thus fueling charges of discriminatory and unfair trade practices. Also of related interest, as I read the press reports, it seems the recently concluded Korea US FTA specifically identified Bourbon for GI protection in some way.

Of course one of the ironic things about this is one of the leading Korean "scotch" brands is Imperial, which is owned ultimately by Pernod Ricard, a French company (as I recall its a blended whiskey of real Scotch and local "Scotch").

Comming back to it

I finally got some time to donate to more regular blogging here. It's
good to be back, but wonder how long this spasm will last.