Ik Hyun Seo
As a partner at Cho & Partners, what makes a strong trademark team and how do you go about building one?
We believe that a high level of knowledge and competence is only the beginning and is achieved through extensive internal training. Beyond that, our belief is that the client is best served if our team partners as closely as possible with them. That means understanding the client’s products and services, business and legal philosophies and preferences, among others. So, we do not have just one trademark team but multiple teams that are specifically designed to partner with each client.
Working with both US and Korean clients, what are the biggest differences in terms of their IP strategies?
Most of our work is for foreign multinational companies, but we occasionally handle matters for large Korean clients. While the level of appreciation and sophistication surrounding IP matters has improved significantly among Korean companies, a wide gap remains compared to our foreign clients, who have a much longer and deeper level of experience with IP strategies – both in obtaining rights and enforcing them. However, we are hopeful and optimistic that this gap will narrow as intellectual property owned by Korean companies has dramatically increased in commercial value (eg, the entertainment industry accelerated by the Hallyu tide or the continued success of Korea’s electronics and automotive giants).
In a volatile economic climate, how do you ensure that filings and prosecution are effective while keeping costs down?
Beause we are a smaller and leaner IP boutique, we are nimbler in accommodating clients’ needs. For example, during the early pandemic, some clients had to shut down stores worldwide, immediately impacting cash flow and budgets. Through honest and sincere dialogue, special temporary fee terms were implemented to weather out the most difficult times. We are pleased to share that our clients are thriving again.
Can you share any advice for foreign clients tackling high-stakes IP issues at the local level in Korea? What are the most frequent mistakes that they make – and how can they avoid them?
Do not assume anything, and have thorough discussions with local counsel. Foreign clients are often surprised that immediate injunctive orders are unavailable in Korea. Korean courts are much more conservative in damages awards, and there are no enhanced damages in Korea. These factors, as well as others, can affect the overall strategy. What works in the client’s home jurisdiction might not work in Korea. So, getting thorough advice and working with knowledgeable counsel that is experienced in Korean law and in other major jurisdictions is absolutely critical for high-stake matters.
What inspired you to pursue a career in intellectual property, and what advice would you offer those considering a similar path?
My undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering, so I was destined for the IP path when I started law school. However, I was not limited to patent matters – I was fortunate to be surrounded by partners and mentors at the start of my career in Chicago who allowed me to handle a broad scope of IP matters. I realise that things have changed a great deal since I began as a lawyer nearly 30 years ago; the practice of law has become highly specialised, so there are fewer opportunities to delve deeply into multiple IP areas. However, a new lawyer should consider it if they have such an opportunity.
I would also like to emphasise that having good mentors is critical. Becoming a successful lawyer is difficult to do on your own – it is a tremendous advantage to have a mentor who can pass on knowledge and teach you things that cannot be taught in law school.
Intellectual property is a wonderful legal field, and anyone with any interest should seriously consider it. I could talk for days about why it is one of the best areas. Intellectual property is a valuable right and asset that only grows in importance over time. It is dynamic and intellectual as society and technology evolve. This field is also truly international in nature – IP laws are generally much more globally harmonised than almost all other practice areas. Thus, the many international organisations and conferences present opportunities to engage with colleagues from around the world. Not only have I done so, but I have also made genuine friends that have enriched me and broadened my perspective.
Ik Hyun Seo
Ik Hyun Seo, a founding member of Cho & Partners, is active in litigation and enforcement matters, primarily assisting foreign multinational clients. Before relocating to Seoul in 1999, he practiced IP law in Chicago, handling patent and trademark prosecution and eventually focusing on high-profile patent, trademark and copyright litigation for industry giants. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with an electrical engineering degree, Mr Seo received his JD from Chicago-Kent College of Law.