The introduction of Special Judicial Police of the Korean Intellectual Property Office (SJP) in September 2010 as the country's first investigative authority specializing in investigating counterfeit products has been a huge success. The SJP has conducted over 45,000 investigations of trademark infringement and unfair competition in the last 10 years, and successfully pursued about 3,500 criminal trademark infringement cases and seized over 12 million counterfeit products with an estimated retail value of USD 430 million. The SJP has also had to adapt to the global COVID-19 pandemic as there has been a huge increase in online infringement cases compared to the past (12,767 out of 12,921 cases reported to the SJP in 2020 through August have involved online infringement, compared to 565 online cases a decade ago).
Since last year, the SJP's authority has been expanded to include investigating patent, trade secret and design infringement. This expanded authority has contributed to sustainable business growth and industrial development in Korea by expanding governmental protection for business investments in technology and intellectual property, and applying KIPO's expertise to achieve more effective intellectual property enforcement. The SJP has already been actively exercising its new authority - from March 2019 to August 2020, the SJP charged 438 infringers with patent, trade secret, or design infringement, as shown below.
<Number of patent, trade secret, design, and unfair competition cases investigated by the SJP from March 2019-August 2020>
|Patents||Trade secrets||Designs||Unfair competition||Total|
|Cases where SJP has asserted criminal charges||206||41||123||68||438|
|Cases referred by SJP to Prosecutors' Office||103||19||82||24||228|
Further, the data seems to indicate that the SJP has improved the effectiveness of criminal investigations for IP infringement. In 2017 (prior to the SJP's expansion of authority), the rate of indictments by the Prosecutors' Office for intellectual property cases other than trademark cases was about 7.8%, but for cases investigated by the SJP and referred to the Prosecutors' Office for formal prosecution between March 2019-August 2020, the rate of indictment substantially increased to about 22%.
In view of the expanded authority and effectiveness of the SJP, intellectual property right holders should consider seeking relief through the SJP for infringement, particularly where it may be difficult to obtain evidence of infringement held by the accused infringers. The SJP may collect infringing evidence from infringers through formal law enforcement procedures such as seizures, and any evidence collected by the SJP may be used later in separate civil proceedings against the accused infringers.
The SJP's expanded authority and ability to investigate intellectual property infringement is likely to boost protection of intellectual property rights in Korea. Intellectual property right holders should consider proactive cooperation with the SJP to deal with infringement in Korea, particularly against willful infringers.