Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Transsexual Copyright

Korean transsexual celebrity Ha Ri-su is having trouble with pirated versions of a film she made as part of her 2002 nude photo album.

What is interesting is the game website handed over the IP address of the poster of the pirated version. She then reported it to the police. Seems like the sites and ISP's may be a lot more accommodating of outside requests to ID pirates if this is any indication, contrary to the rumored "fights" that may occur with the new copyright laws.

Seoul Court Halts Daewoo's infrigement of LG

In an a story in my back log, the Seoul Central District Court has issued an injunction to stop Daewoo from making and selling some of its Klasse brand clothes washers for allegedly using an LG patent:

The court said that one of the patented technologies that LG had applied to its Tromm washers was used by Daewoo without paying any patent rights. The technology in question involves attaching a motor to the side of a drum-style washing machine, which supposedly reduces noise and vibration.

While I do not know, this may be a pretty blatant infringement. Korean courts rarely give out injunctions in marginal cases in my experience. Daewoo may want to give some thought to settling.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Samsung targets IBM, but with a squirt gun?

There is an interesting dichotomy between the US and Korea in one area. For the past 14 years the only way it was guaranteed that the word "patent" would be mentioned in a newscast was an offhanded comment to wrap up the business or technology segment with a line like "IBM was ranked first by the US patent office for the most applications last year…"
The annual story is mirrored in Korea, but takes the form of two stories. One, "Samsung ranked second [or third, or fourth] in the number of patent filings in the United States, just missing the leader IBM by….". The local focus is understandable, but then there is the second article that reliably pops up sometimes before the next ranking. This one usually goes "Samsung plans to be the top US patent applicant in two [or three, or ten] years…"
The Korea Times has translated this year's version of the second story into English for the world to see:
Samsung Electronics has set an ambitious goal of ending IBM's 14-year dominance as the United States' top patent holder within two or three years, its patent manager said. 

The versatile electronics maker was the closest rival to IBM last year, receiving 2,453 U.S. patents against IBM's 3,651. And it won't take too long to take IBM down from the throne, said Lee Dong-geun, general manager of Samsung's intellectual property strategy group. 


"We will soon be competing with IBM for the top place. In two or three years, we will produce more patents than IBM,'' Lee said in a recent meeting with reporters in Seoul…The number of U.S. patents is one of the most frequently used indicators of a firm's technological competence.
That last one is the key to why all this ink in spilled about Samsung's plans. It's a product of the economic nationalism in Korea and the need to be seen as number one. In this case the assumption is, if you lead in patent applications you lead in innovation. If only that was the case.
Consider this line from Mr. Lee, Samsung's patent head, in the same story above:
"We still pay more royalties than what we receive. I think we will be able to break-even around 2015,'' he said, adding that a single laptop PC, for example, is built on more than 1,000 patents that needed to be paid royalty
A line like that really makes me question what is the VALUE of the patents Samsung has been filing. To boil this down, who would you consider more innovative, the guy who has 100 patents and gets US$1 in royalties for each, or the guy who has 1 patent worth US$100 in royalties? I would lean toward the latter.
In addition to this, consider this 2004 interview in Managing Intellectual Property by one of Mr. Lee's predecessors, Han Kap-tae. This is the way he spells out Samsung's patent strategy:
At one time, when we received a patent claim from another company, we did not have any idea how to deal with the situation. It was quite natural that our strategy was focused on how we could pay less. But now we have a relatively good patent portfolio. This means that we can counter-claim against other companies, which leads us to have more cross-licenses. We changed our strategy to become more aggressive. We think that having good patents is the best strategy.
So Samsung's definition of a "good" patent portfolio is not one lucrative in royalties, but rather one that serves as a good defense against competing patent claims brought against it.
A bit of circumstantial evidence indicates this is still Samsung's model. In the past few years Samsung signed a number of bilateral patent pools with companies around the world, such as Sony and Microsoft. These pools can easily be interpreted as a defense similar to what Mr. Han was describing.
Finally, consider the recent Business Week "Innovation" cover story. In one of the articles they discuss the use of patents, and how applicable they are to measuring how innovative a company actually is. To its credit, Samsung actually ranks very high in a cited Boston Consulting Group survey measuring how often other patents cite the patents.
This is good news for Samsung, but a detail gives me pause:
Even though technology patents, which protect functions, are far more common in number, the five most-cited patents for the top two companies on our [2006] list—Samsung Electronics and Nike—were all "design" patents. Design patents only cover an item's look or form.
Now this may seem like a denial of some pretty strong evidence in Samsung's favor, however Nike is pretty far from the top of the USPTO "biggest filers" list, which reinforces my initial reaction that being on the top of the list is a hollow achievement. More over consider Samsung's actual target…IBM.
IBM was never known for its design prowess. Yet it is consistently recognized for being one of the most innovative companies in the middle to late 20th Century, and even arguably today. One of IBM's cornerstones was technological innovation, yet design innovation was relegated to boxy vs. angular. Even today, IBM's patents are more technical in nature than design, not to mention their actual physical product line-up is almost laterally a shadow of itself.
So if Samsung does unseat IBM, I expect the local press to crown Samsung as "World's Most Innovative". However given that effort was based on design patents and technological patents with limited market value, I will need a mine, not a grain, of salt to swallow it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

As Qualcomm's problems hit Korea, will it create more problems?

There was much debate in Korea last week on the effects of the recent Qualcomm/Broadcom ITC ruling, which may lead to the banning of the importation of Qualcomm products using specific Broadcom technologies. Korean being a major phone maker, exporter, and licensee of Qualcomm technologies are due to be hit somehow. Financial analysts are pessimistic, but manufactures are less so.

What is interesting to note is Korean phone makers have a contingency plan according to the Dong-A Ilbo:

An official from Samsung said, "A consortium of domestic companies has developed chips that do not use the patented technologies of Broadcom. Cell phones with these chips inside are being tested."

Another official from the industry said, "Cell phones that had been approved for import already will be exempt from the ITC's import ban. Cell phones with new chips will be manufactured by this month and will make their way to the U.S. with no problem."

This is a bit interesting. Since the new chips do not "use the patented technologies of Broadcom", they are not paying royalties to the company. Which means this may create another target for Broadcom to go after. Might get ugly.

Did a trademark really sink Rain?

In a battle among obscurities for a place in American popular culture, a Beetles cover band "Rain" has filed with a Nevada court to stop Korean singer "Rain" from playing in the US under that name. Specifically, its the owner of RAIN, US registration number 1572476. The mark claims a first use all the way back to 1979. The Chosun Ilbo article insinuates that the case has pushed back the Korean Rain's US tour.

While I doubt the Chosun is correct (a bit of a long story), what I find interesting is Rain's folks seemed to be well aware of the US trademark conflict. In 2005 the Korean Rain's management firm JYP Entertainment filed for a trademark RAIN in the US (application no. 79022529). That application avoided claiming class IC041 (music performances) for which the US Rain's mark was registered in. JYP dropped the application once Rain defected to his current management company, Star M. Why this known problem was not handled with before hand baffles me.

Samsung seeks ITC action

In another sign that the US is becoming the IP battleground for the world, Samsung brings two cases to the ITC against Japanese chip firm Renesas. 

Pernod Ricard fights Korean Counterfeiting and Adulteration

The Korea Times mentions a new way Jinro Ballentines, Pernod's local unit, is trying to fight counterfeits and adulterations in their brand "Imperial", one of the leading local "Scotch" brands:

In particular, the new Imperial presents a different kind of "product guarantee'' device, called OK Mark (Original Keeper Mark), in addition to its famous ``Keeper Cap.''

When the laser-printed four-digit number on the cap and cap sealer of each bottle matches the last four digits of the 10-digit product code on the label, the bottle is guaranteed to be genuine Imperial, according to Jinro Ballantines.

What is interesting here is "Imperial" is a pretty local brand, it is not exported to my knowledge. I am surprised the specific label has attracted counterfeiters (rather than the flagship and higher margin "Ballentines").

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Korean Police comment on Enforcement

The Korea Times has a very vanilla piece on an impending OCED report on IPR infringement worldwide. No comment on what specifically it will say about Korea however. The article does have this last little part which I guess "localizes" the piece:

But regulators of counterfeit businesses say that buying and selling fake goods within the local market have sharply declined recently.

"Those in the business are realizing that the risk isn't worth it because once they get caught, the penalty and other punishment is far too harsh compared to the profitability,'' said an officer at the Yongsan Police Station.

Itaewon and Dongdaemun, which are well known as hot sports for abundant knockoffs, are less frequented by shoppers, he added. 

At least the first part is true, overall fake goods have declined overall. I beg to differ with the "officer at the Yongsan Police Station" however, penalties really have not changed much in the period of the decline (unless of course he means something ridiculous like over the last 30 years). What's really changed is more companies are making the police act, before all they did (and still do unless prodded) is sit and ask for the Korean equivalent of another doughnut. (and don't get me started on actual penalties handed out! I could rant forever).

Also the two things together bring up something interesting. While the fake problem may have alleviated (and thats a big MAY) in Iteawon and Dongdaemun, its says nothing about the recent growth in Namdaemun, Myongdong, and guerilla operations. Moreover, the fact that Yongsan Electronics Market (under the obvious jurisdiction of the quoted police officer) is still a huge market for counterfeit media and some electronics.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

User Generated Content (UCC) gets "guidelines"

The Ministry of Communication (MIC) has drafted "guidelines" for user generated content, more popularly referred to in Korea as User Created Content (UCC). The guidelines have been disclosed for the purposes of public comment, and the final version is expected to be announced at a government sponsored "Dynamic Korea UCC Festival" (note link may not be related, but you get the idea). 

What makes it worth noting here is the "guidelines" clearly state that user generated content should not use copyrighted works without permission. While these guidelines do not have the force of law (thus the quotation marks), it is a good sign. Further I hope these guidelines could be sited in conjunction with copyright law to assure compliance or supplementary evidence in infringement cases. In particular on this point, the way I poorly read the guidelines in Korean it may be used in conjunction with the new copyright law since it implies ISP's may have responsibly in this matter (note #9 below). Last, while this all may be a marketing stunt by the MIC, I hope that these guidelines could be incorporated by the MIC into government sponsored investment programs, support programs, and regulation schemes. Keep your fingers crossed on that one.

Incidentally a last couple points. The MIC says that "more than half" of internet users have created user generated content. Considering the internet using population by the MIC in other gloss promo's is almost 100% of the population, I find resulting 25 million figure hard to swallow. The MIC also trumpets that the guidelines were developed by "a special 15-person research team composed of industry specialists, legal experts and academics that has conducted meetings and workshops since January". Well here is my poor translation of the 10 guidelines as published here:

1. Internet users must uphold the basic virtues of the democratic society that is the foundation of the Internet.
2. Content generators must recognize their large role and impact in maintaining public order.
3. Content generators have a responsibly to respect the privacy rights of people.
4. Generated content should not lead back to other media (photos, images, etc.) which have a hazardous impact on internet users [the content should not link to porn, gambling, etc. - Dram Man]
5. Content generators should respect copyrights
6. Content generators should not produce work which can endanger and break society
7. Content generators should use truthful information and be truthful
8. Content generators should be responsible for the impact of their work and must apologize for any harm caused.
9. User generated content should benefit society and inappropriate content should not be circulated 
10. User generated content should be original, novel, and be distributed freely so as to create a productive user generated media culture.

If anybody wants to correct my translation, please do. I know its only one level up from Bablefish.

Monday, June 04, 2007

KSR and Korea

While I cannot read the full article, the Intellectual Property Watch website discusses the effects of the Teleflex v. KSR case in relation to future EPO practice. Its notable here since the heavy cooperation and exchange efforts between the EPO and KIPO have breed a league of patent examiners that favor EU style claims. While it may take some time for the ripple to be felt here it will if the EU makes changes, it will get here.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Korea big Coach Counterfeiter?

I was interviewed recently by a US reporter about how to spot fake goods. He pointed to a sample and asked, "How can you tell this is a fake Rolex?" I said "You mean other than the fact you bought it for US $60 out of a shoe box kept under the counter?".

Anyway this article brings up a lot of the signs of counterfiet mercahnsdise. What attacted my attention was this line:

How about the made by tag? Coach does have bags made in China. But Coach does not have handbags made in Korea.

Why did he pick Korea of all places? Was it just random choice based on reputation, or does Coach have a particular problem here? Interesting.

LG Patents MP3 Washer

In a case of an overzealous patent department, LG has filed for a US patent for an MP3 player/washing machine.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rumors of Internet Death are Exagerated

At first I dismissed this story as a factoid. Then there was some rumor mongering about it. Now its an exaggeration in full bloom. The story, and I mean that literally, is the "death of the internet in Korea!" (insert jarring chord).

As stated before, much of the "controversial" FTA provisions are covered upcoming changed to Korea's Copyright Law anyway. In other words, the FTA will do NOTHING to change Korea's law on the matter. Here is the "Alarming" text about the FTA via one of the above links:

"The Parties agree on the objective of shutting down Internet sites that permit the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or transmission of copyright works, of regularly assessing and actively seeking to reduce the impact of new technological means for committing online copyright piracy, and of providing generally for more effective enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet."
"Korea also agrees on the objective of shutting down Internet sites that permit the unauthorized downloading (and other forms of piracy) of copyright works, including so-called webhard services, and providing for more effective enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet, including in particular with regard to peer-to-peer (p2p) services."

Now while I cannot find the english language version online of the changes, I have found a summary written by a local Korean law firm Bae Kim and Lee about the changes in the Mondaq database. Thankfully, or not depending on your perspective, all the folks at BKL do is just rehash the law so. So compare the FTA text above with the changes for Korean Copyright Law effective July 1, 2007 and passed by the assembly well before the FTA was finally negotiated:

Article 2, subparagraph 7 of the Copyright Act has been amended to cover the public transmission right "to transmit or provide for use works, etc. by wire or wireless communications for the public to receive or access them". Additionally, Article 2, subparagraph 11 now includes, as a type of the public transmission right, the right of digital voice transmission, which means "public transmission of voices in a digital mode through an information and communications network to be commenced at the request of members of the public (other than general transmission)"...

The Copyright Act now includes provisions concerning the obligations of specific types of internet service providers (ISPs) to protect and cultivate the cultural industry. Under the newly-added Article 104, ISPs primarily engaging in services intended for peer-to-peer transmission are obligated, if requested by relevant rights holders, to take technical actions to intercept illegal transmission of copyrighted works or other necessary actions.

Article 103(2) of the Act also stipulates that if any person whose copyrights are infringed has requested the infringing ISP, through proving the infringement, to suspend the reproduction or transmission of his works, the ISP is required to suspend the reproduction or transmission without delay. Moreover, the new provision requires an ISP that suspended the reproduction or transmission of copyrighted information to notify the relevant rights holder who applied for suspension that it has taken place.

Now the above would possibly make the ISP criminally liable for failure to block access to the infringing material, and if guilty conceivably shut down by either by the courts, private settlement, or just simply by the financial demands of the case. And that shut down is exactly what would be required under the FTA. 

That leaves the question, if its going to happen anyway, why go through the time and effort to make a stink in the press. At the Marmot's Hole, where I blog occasionally, one contributor picks up on something a bit insidious, the group that made the initial press release is one of the well known anti-American groups over here. Accordingly, if you look beyond the provocation you can find some rather nutty language in the original release:

These provisions can be easily invoked by authorities to justify surveillance and outright censorship on political, cultural and social grounds. Memories of such a society are still fresh. Koreans fought hard to free themselves from long decades of authoritarian rule (much of which was at least indirectly US-supported), establishing one of the worlds most vibrant democracies. Human rights violations were common and severe as recently as 1992, though human rights and freedoms are now largely guaranteed. Civil society groups say they are not about to let US commercial interests open the doors for a new authoritarianism.

According to this group enforcing copyrights is a human rights violation! It's just another way for the US to subjugate Korea and return to authoritarian rule! Oh the humanity!

I know the blogosphere is a bit flaky, but some of the more respected places like Boing Boing should really read things in full before going off half-cocked.