Why Korean Startups Should Not Apply for a Patent in Korea

Korean startups that have a product will usually get the advance to patent their product. I have been covering the Korean startup scene for over 7 years and I have met many inventors and startup entrepreneurs in Korea who have gone through applying for a patent in Korea. What I learned is that getting a patent in Korea is a terrible idea and many startups in Korea have gone under because they filed for a patent. Patents in Korea are only great for big corporations like Samsung, LG, and etc. There are many reasons for this and I will go into depth as to why patents can completely ruin your company if you are a startup or a single inventor. In this article, I will break down the reasons why you should NOT apply for a patent in Korea. 

Application Process for Getting a Patent in Korea

The first step in getting a patent in Korea is to write a patent application. This can be done yourself, however, the quality of the application is the most important part of getting a patent in Korea.  KIPO (Korean Intellectual Property Office) is very strict when it comes to patent applications. The procedure for registering a utility model is the same as that of a patent except for some notification periods. As you can see from the picture below, each box will need to have a detailed description.

KIBO Patent Examination Guidelines

KIBO has 50 examination standards based on the practices of 5 major IP offices of Korea, the US, Europe, Japan, and China. Their examination standards are similar to international standards. Utility model requirements are less strict than for patents. Applications for a utility model undergo formal and substantive examinations. The validity term of a utility model in Korea is 10 years, compared to 20 years for a patent.

KIBO
KIBO application procedure for Patents and Utility models

Even if the patent is granted it will be contested at some point in time. Especially if your product is a success. This is why the application has to be bulletproof. In order to create the best possible patent application, you need to hire a patent attorney in Korea. Hiring a patent attorney in Korea is not easy. The top patent lawyers in Korea are employed by big corporations like Samsung. Samsung targets the best of the best patent attorneys to work for their corporation. Therefore, an elite patent attorney in Korea is already taken and can’t be hired by a startup in Korea or inventor.

The second option is to hire a patent lawyer from a law firm. Those that have great track records are usually booked out for months. In addition, their rates are very expensive. The average cost is around $10,000. Most Korean startups can’t afford $10,000 for a patent application. In addition, the official language of patent registration in Korea is Korean. The application may be filed in English, however, it’s translation into Korean should be submitted within 14 months from the earliest priority date.

The Road Most Korean Startups Take When Hiring a Patent Attorney

Close to 90% of Korean startups go with the third option when applying for a patent in Korea. This means hiring an average self-employed patent lawyer. Therefore Korean startups need to do a lot of research to make sure this lawyer is qualified to structure a patent application. It will be up to this average at best patent attorney to handle the KIBO application. The cost will still not be cheap. I have heard of Korean startups only paying $1,000 to others paying $6,000.

After the application is filed, Korean startups will have to wait between 3-4 years before a patent is granted.  This is terrible for a startup because a patent will increase your company’s chance to get investments. Most Korean startups go into production anyway during this time. At some point, KIBO will have some feedback/complaints regarding the patent application. Therefore, the Korean startup will now have to hire the attorney again to fix the issues and the application is finalized. This will be an extra cost for the Korean startup. The typical freelance patent attorney will charge $300-$500 per hour for their services. After all this, the patent could get rejected. However, if a patent is granted, the problems don’t stop.

KIPRIS

KIPRISKIPRIS (Korea Intellectual Property Rights Information Service) has a great database of patents. In addition, they offer a database regarding IP translation companies. They are a internet-based patent document search service made available to the public free of charge. It is designed to promote the use of patent information for R&D activities, patent disputes, corporate M&A, and etc.

Fighting Copycats

If your product is a success, there will be copycats. If those copycats are from China, there is nothing you can do. Since China will not enforce the patent, people will be able to manufacture your product at a much lower cost. This happens all the time and is one of the main reasons for the China-U.S. trade dispute. China does not just knock off U.S. products but many Korean products as well. Some of the top K-Beauty products are knocked off in China and there are many counterfeits being produced and shipped all around the world. There could also be copycats coming for Korea! Yes, companies in Korea could end up blatantly infringing on your patent.

What do you do then? Hire the patent lawyer again who will write the company a cease and desist notice. However, this company will most likely have patent lawyers of their own. Their job will be to challenge your patent. They will argue that your patent is illegitimate. Therefore, it will come down to who has the better patent lawyer.

This is where the real money comes in for patent lawyers. Many patent lawyers want to get to this point. This is because this process could take years, not months. Remember the $300 an hour? If the other company has more money than you the startup will at some point have to give up. This is why if a Korean startup is challenged by a conglomerate like Samsung, it will be a hopeless case. Imagine spending your time and energy in this process instead of your startup. Most Korean startups at this point spend most of their time preparing for court rather than their product or service.

Should you apply for a Patent in Korea?

NO! So what should you do? Your strategy is to focus on finding a manufacturer that will produce your product. It is that simple. Don’t waste your time on a patent, you will thank me in the long run.