Korea revises Unfair Competition Law

South Korea

The Korean National Assembly has approved revisions to the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Law (UCPA), which most notably include (i) new remedies against cybersquatting, and (ii) a new cause of action against dead copy product design infringement. These new provisions are expected to take effect by the middle of the year.

The first revision prohibits the following actions as unfair competition:

"the act of registering, maintaining, transferring or using a domain name that is similar to another person's name, trade name, trademark or any other sign that is widely known in Korea for the purpose of:

  • selling or renting the domain name to the rightful owner of the trademark or any other sign;

  • interfering with registering and using the domain name by the rightful owner; or

  • obtaining commercial gain."

This means that plaintiffs will no longer have to rely solely on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy to obtain the cancellation of a domain name registration. This new remedy under the UCPA will be in addition to injunctive relief and damages. However, criminal actions will still not be available.

The second revision is a parallel to what is known (in particular in Japan) as a 'dead copy prohibition', making illegal the following actions:

"the act of assigning, renting, displaying, importing or exporting a product that imitates the appearance of another person's product (ie, the product's shape, pattern, colour, gloss or a combination of these attributes). However, this provision shall not be applicable (i) when the imitation product is made more than three years from the date the original product was made; or (ii) if the product shape is a commonly used form for such goods."

This will be a significant advance for plaintiffs seeking to pursue claims against the manufacturers of imitation products because unlike other UCPA or trademark causes of action, there is no requirement that the original product design be famous or a source identifier. Instead, the statute imposes a time restriction of three years from the date of the original product's release. All civil remedies regularly available under the UCPA, including injunctive relief and damages, will be available for this new claim. Criminal actions for the above will not be available.

Jay Young-June Yang, Kim & Chang, Seoul

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