An amendment to the Korean Design Protection Act ("Act") has been proposed to protect new types of image designs with augmented reality or virtual reality technologies, such as virtual laser keyboards and holograms. The amendment was promulgated on April 20, 2021 and will go into effect from October 21, 2021.
Since the existing Act only protects image designs when displayed on a panel or screen of an item, it is currently not possible to protect computer generated image designs projected on external surfaces. However, pursuant to the "digital revolution," products incorporating new types of image designs that may not be generated on computer screens, such as augmented reality, holograms, and projections, have been released in the market. The market for such new types of design products has been growing daily, and there have been international developments in design law to address the protection of such new types of image designs, while South Korea's design law has been criticized for failing to keep up with this trend.
The proposed amendment tries to address this discrepancy by modifying the "definitions" section of the Act to indicate that image designs can be protected regardless of whether they are displayed on a screen or not. However, while image design is defined as "a figure/symbol expressed by digital technology or in an electronic manner," the proposed amendment also adds a limitation that image designs not displayed on a screen must constitute an "image design that is used for the operation of a device or that exhibits a function." In addition, the amendment specifically stipulates what is considered the "execution" of an image design. This includes online transmission or transfer, rental, export, and import of media (USB, SD CARD, etc.) that store the image design, and the production and use of such media. This stipulation is intended to reflect that image designs are essentially "data," and thereby to effectively protect the holder of image design rights from infringement.
Image designs that are displayed on a panel or screen of an item will continue to enjoy the same protection under the amended Act, regardless of whether it is used for the operation of a device or exhibits a function.
With the implementation of the amended Act, new types of image designs will now enjoy effective and comprehensive protection in Korea.