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Protection of intellectual property and the laws governing enforcement of these protections exist but are not necessarily extra-territorial. What is understood and practiced in the United States is not always practiced in Korea.

U.S. companies wishing to sell their products or services in Korea should first and foremost register their intellectual property rights (copyrights, trademarks or patents) in Korea. The best way to enforce a right-holder's claims is to have their intellectually property recognized by the Korean government.

How and Where to Register Your Intellectual Property in Korea

Trademarks and Patents

Both the United States and Korea are members of the Madrid Protocol, which allows companies from the member nations to apply for trademark ownership in several member nation countries simultaneously. In Korea, a U.S. company can register their trademarks and patents with the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). Foreign applicants are required to retain a licensed local attorney in order to prepare applications in Korean and to conduct necessary follow-up correspondence locally.


Under international law, copyrights do not have to be registered in order to be protected; however, similar to the U.S., registration is also possible in Korea with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Enforcement of legally registered copyrights, trademarks and patents are under the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor's Office in Korea.

Type of Intellectual Property

Where to Register

Trademarks, Patents

Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO)


Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST)

Copyright Registration Division: Copyright
Deliberation and Conciliation Committee

Also, when registering a copyright, trademark, or patent, US companies should maintain control of their intellectual property even if they request their Korean agent to do the processing. This control is particularly important should the relationship dissolve. In previous cases where the Korean agent maintained control of the intellectual property, long, costly legal battles have ensued in order for the U.S. company to regain their trademark.

For list of major law firms in Korea, click “here”.


(Source: Korea Intellectual Property Office)

The basic policy behind Korea's legal system for disputes between parties is to aid the parties to reach mutual agreement. Unless in extreme criminal cases, "forceful" enforcement is rarely used.

Legal Systems for the Protection of IPRs in Korea

Type of IPR



Industrial Property Rights


Patent Act

Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO)

Utility Models

Utility Model Act


Design Act


Trademark Act

Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secrets Protection

Unfair Competition Act

Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Right

Semiconductor Act


Copyright Act

Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCT)

Sound Records, Video Products and Game Software

Sound Records, Video Products and Game Software Act

Computer Programs

Computer Programs Protection Act

Ministry of Knowledge Economy

New Breed of Plants

Seed Industry Act

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAF)

Customs clearance regulation on counterfeit goods

Customs Act

Korea Customs Service

(Source: Korea Intellectual Property Office)

I. Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO)

The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) is responsible for enforcing four (4) major industrial property right (IPR) laws – Patent, Trademark, Utility Models and Design laws.  Additionally, KIPO is responsible for enforcing other IPR laws, such as the Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout law and the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection law.  In terms of the Unfair Competition Prevention law, KIPO carries out offline investigations to help track down and put a stop the manufacture, circulation and sale of counterfeit products because they usually result in unfair competition practices.  To fight rapid increase in the circulation of counterfeit products, KIPO monitors the channels and transfers their investigation to the police.  For online sites found to be indulging in counterfeiting activities, they are reported to the Korea Communications Commission for appropriate actions to be taken.  Appropriate actions may include, blocking the site, shutting it down or canceling the registration of the site or user.

II. Local offices by region

In February 2009, KIPO inaugurated regional squad offices in Seoul, Daejeon and Busan for both regular and intensive control of counterfeiting activities.  These cities were chosen because they were observed to have a high counterfeit products circulation rate.

Working closely with regional government officials, a regional squad office aims to efficiently control counterfeiting activities within its region.  It investigates and obtains detailed information about the modus operandi of illegal manufacturers and circulators within its region.

III. Korean Intellectual Property Protection Association (KIPPA)

The Korean Intellectual Property Protection Association (KIPPA) is an independent intellectual property right protection organization that is working closely with major, medium and small-sized companies to address the counterfeiting control problems that Korea currently has.  Korea is currently ranked 4th in the world in terms of the number of patent applications filed, but due to the current low-rate IPR protection here, Korea is losing credibility among other nations and seen to be discouraging technical innovation and foreign capital investments. KIPPA therefore actively supports KIPO’s anti-counterfeiting activities, receives complaints from companies in terms of the difficulties they face due to counterfeiting activities, monitors online circulation of counterfeit products and recommends policies for adequately fighting counterfeiting.

IV. Prosecutor Office and the Police

Prosecutor and police departments are investigating counterfeit product manufacturers and sellers for appropriate criminal punishment.  Special prosecutors established a “Joint Investigation Headquarters for Intellectual Property Violation Criminals” at the Prosecutor-General’s Office to efficiently enforce intellectual property protection leading to the eventual eradication of counterfeit products and activities.  Similarly, at principal district public prosecutor’s offices and smaller public prosecutor offices (so-called branch offices), joint local investigation teams have been established and charged with the responsibility of prosecuting IPR violation cased within their jurisdiction.

V.  Korea Customs Service

The Korea Customs Service, which is the organization responsible for managing imported and exported products through unified customs boundary, has, in line with the WTO/TRIPs agreement of January 1, 1994 and the Customs Law, been enforcing the protection of trademarks and copyrights.  Additionally, the Customs Service is endowed with special judicial police authority to take action against IPR offenders in relation to the import or export of products that violate trademark, copyright, design, patent or utility model rights.

VI. Korean Trade Commission

Under the "Law of unfair trade practices investigation and industrial damage relief", the Korean Trade Commission has the authority to ban the importation, exportation, sale or production of IPR infringing products.  The Korean Trade Commission, depending on specific circumstances, may give over an order for the IPR infringing products to be corrected, prohibited or disposed of.  Those that are to be disposed of, will be destroyed, while those that receive an order for their legal violations to be corrected have to be public announced and appropriate corrective measures taken by the importers or exporters within the time that may be provided

VII. Local Self-government

KIPO has entrusted 256 local self-governments throughout the nation with the right to investigate and eradicate counterfeit products.  These self-governments are now being jointly trained in their respective districts and provided with what they require to carry out this responsibility by public prosecutors, the police and KIPO.


Many companies, particularly SMEs, which discover that their products are being infringed in Korea contact the U.S. Embassy in Korea or the Department of Commerce in Washington for assistance. Because intellectual property rights are private rights, the U.S. government can provide only limited direct assistance. In many cases, the U.S. government can provide companies with information to aid in navigating Korea's legal system, including lists of local investigative firms and attorneys, and share experiences and expertise in Korea. However, the government cannot provide American companies with legal advice or advocate on a company's behalf when a matter is before a court or administrative agency.

When a company encounters blatant infringement of its IPR, the right holder should hire local counsel and pursue a preliminary investigation themselves or through a contracted professional firm, keeping in mind that U.S. companies should ensure compliance with Korean law. Once the initial investigation is complete, the company should determine whether it is worth pursuing further action, especially considering possible costs. Rights holders have the option to initiate actions or seek redress through either the judicial or administrative systems.

Once a company decides to pursue a remedy, the U.S. government will monitor the case, if requested to do so by the company. The Department of Commerce maintains a database of IPR disputes which U.S. companies bring to government's attention. The U.S. government cannot intervene in these cases. However, the government can inquire about their status or contact Korean government officials about concerns related to the effective administration of legal remedies available to IP holders as a general matter. As with other types of commercial disputes, U.S. government efforts to assist with IPR disputes are aimed at achieving a fair and timely resolution in accordance with international commitments and Korean laws, and in advancing adequate legal and judicial protection for all parties.

Click "here" for links to U.S. government agencies dealing with IPR.


The "STOP!" Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy program is a U.S. government-wide effort that works with like-minded countries to halt the worldwide trade in bogus goods. The growing trade in counterfeit goods—estimated by Interpol to be over seven percent of total global trade—threatens the United States and other innovative nations throughout the world, especially cutting into the competitiveness of small manufacturers and their workers.

The Korean government has agreed to work closely with the United States through STOP! to identify and dismantle illegal networks that traffic in bogus goods and to assist business in securing and enforcing their rights in overseas markets.

For further information on "STOP!", go to http://www.stopfakes.gov or http://www.uspto.gov/main/profiles/stopfakes.htm.

International IPR Treaties Korea is a Member of

Korea has joined various international endeavors for more improved IPR protection by becoming a member of the following treaties;

  • Convention establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (1967)
  • Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1980)
  • Patent Cooperation Treaty (1984)
  • Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms (1987)
  • Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure (1988)
  • WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (1995)
  • Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1996)
  • Strasbourg Agreement Concerning the International Patent Classification (1998)
  • Nice Agreement Concerning the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of the Registration of Marks (1998)
  • Trademark Law Treaty (2002)
  • International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (2002)

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