KIPO provides new means to fight counterfeiting

South Korea

The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) has announced a new anti-counterfeiting plan, under which local governments will take more initiative. To that end, KIPO has designated 20 commercial districts as priority (red) target zones and another 31 as yellow zones. It will provide local governments with inspectors, and special instructions and information on distribution networks for counterfeit goods.

South Korea has been infamous for decades as a source of counterfeit goods. It is still a large provider of illegal goods, even though:

  • rising wages in the country mean that its counterfeits are not as competitive as they used to be;

  • the country's anti-counterfeiting legal framework has shown considerable progress; and

  • pressure from trademark owners has prompted police to make more of an effort to stop the trade.

However, foreign mark owners are still concerned that the deterrents against the production, marketing and export of counterfeit goods are not sufficient. They also claim that while in the past counterfeiters did not really try to pass their goods off as trademarked goods, retailers and online stores now sell sophisticated counterfeits as originals. Consequently, representatives of luxury goods manufacturers in South Korea presented last month the following demands to obtain better protection of their IP rights:

  • Police should handle counterfeiting as a felony rather than a misdemeanour.

  • Retailers of counterfeit goods should be subject to legal punishment, even if they claim that they were deceived by a wholesaler.

  • First offenders should receive more than a probation conviction if it can be proven that they were aware that the goods they were selling were counterfeit.

  • The district prosecutors' offices and police agencies should have at least one department in charge of IP-related crimes.

  • Enforcement agencies should make IP crimes a higher priority.

  • Authorities should use citizen ID numbers as well as business licence numbers in their investigations as this may help to stop the use of dummy companies.

Last year the South Korean customs conducted 298 operations to stop the importation of counterfeit goods worth W452.7 billion ($387.6 million). Customs officials blocked the export of W36.3 billion-worth of goods during the same period. It is estimated that the total trade in counterfeits could be 20 times the amount detected.

Yoon Bae Kim, Kims and Lees, Seoul

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