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[Herald Interview] Boosting ‘K-quarantine’ drive by safeguarding patent rights of Korean testing kit

Demand for Korea’s COVID-19 response experience on rise, but patent rights of homegrown technology must be protected, says commissioner

Korea Intellectual Property Office Commissioner Park Won-joo speaks in a videoconference with heads of patent offices across 16 countries and World Intellectual Property Organization Director General Francis Gurry on April 20 in his office in Daejeon. (KIPO)
Korea Intellectual Property Office Commissioner Park Won-joo speaks in a videoconference with heads of patent offices across 16 countries and World Intellectual Property Organization Director General Francis Gurry on April 20 in his office in Daejeon. (KIPO)
Amid growing global demand to learn South Korea’s unique quarantine methods that have contributed to bringing the novel coronavirus under control, the nation’s patent office said Tuesday that it will closely work with overseas partners to share its know-how while protecting intellectual property rights of Korean testing kits and other related products at the same time.

“The homegrown COVID-19 testing kits are seeing a soaring demand from across the globe, because companies that developed the testing kits were able to safeguard the patent rights for its technology prowess,” said Park Won-joo, commissioner of the Korea Intellectual Property Office, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“(KIPO) will do its best to have Korean companies’ technological achievements well protected as intellectual properties so that they could contribute to the global community’s fight against the virus,” he said.

The patent office moved fast to protect Korean exports’ intellectual property rights so that the global market could properly cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

KIPO’s efforts have allowed local developers of diagnostic kits and test booths to undergo an abridged process to obtain patent rights, sell their products free of hassles of their intellectual property rights and gain a foothold in their global market position, he said.

Most recently, KIPO on April 20 registered a patent for homegrown COVID-19 detection kits that make use of a loop-mediated isothermal amplification technology, which is meant to detect the coronavirus within 30 minutes, for the first time in the world.

Also, KIPO is expediting the patent licensing of “K-walk-thru,” a testing booth that allows medical staff to perform a COVID-19 diagnosis inside a contamination-free booth without physical contact with a subject, who stands outside the booth.

This is largely thanks to KIPO’s task force to battle COVID-19 that launched in late February, Lee said. The task force has worked to fend off IP rights infringement with regards to Korean testing kits, has extended relief to virus-hit entities attempting to file patent applications and has provided policy support to those in need of swift registration of new patents.

In light of this, the patent office launched a special website called “Patent Information Navigation” in March. The platform is designed to provide some 3,500 patents filed, issued or registered at home and abroad for masks, protective clothing, goggles, face shields and sterilizers. The website helps developers of devices, testing kits and medicine alleviate the patent burden and learn about the trend, according to KIPO.

Such works came as KIPO moved to lay out an ecosystem to ensure that intellectual properties are recognized as not only valuable sources of financing but also assets to invest in.

In 2019, the volume of intellectual property financing -- ranging from intellectual property-backed loans to guarantees and transactions -- came to 1.35 trillion won ($1.1 billion), up 77 percent on-year.

Loans using intellectual property as collaterals came to 433.1 billion won, guarantees provided for intellectual properties reached 724 billion won and investments in intellectual property stood at 193.3 billion won.

Taking a step further, KIPO committed 40 billion won to support funds that invest in intellectual properties.

Moreover, KIPO in February launched a separate body to collect bad loans that collateralized the intangible assets, which is expected to mitigate the burden of commercial lenders and at the same time facilitate the fundraising process of companies holding intellectual property rights. Park expected the volume of intellectual property-backed loans to rise twofold this year.

In addition, KIPO is urging a revision of the Capital Markets Act where an intellectual property service firm in Korea is eligible to act as an asset protection trust to shield intellectual properties from creditors.

“Korea has taken a big step in creating a market where IPs are increasingly deemed targets of investment,” said Park. “It is KIPO’s duty to transition itself from a government agency that does routine work to register patent rights into an organization that plays a lead role in innovating in the country using the IP assets.”

In the meantime, KIPO has taken advantage of its database over the past couple of years to advise the government when shaping its industrial policy. KIPO’s advice has ranged from calls for deregulation based on a drastic cut in patent application in the health care industry to a shift from its focus on lithium-ion batteries to solid-state batteries.

The efforts come along with the recent changes in the legal setting that take harsher actions against the rights infringements.

Effective since July last year, the treble damage rule in Korea states that intellectual property rights violators are subject to face financial compensation three times greater than the value of the property. Also since last year, Korea‘s special law enforcement agency has been eligible to carry out a probe on intellectual property infringement cases.

“The IP rights protection is a prerequisite to the normal operation of the IP market,” Park said.

By Son Ji-hyoung and Lee Kwon-hyoung (consnow@heraldcorp.com) (kwonhl@heraldcorp.com)

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