In 2001, the Korean Design Protection Act introduced a "partial design system" allowing registration of specific portions of larger designs reflecting creative elements, and thereby enhancing the protection of design rights in Korea by enlarging the scope of designs eligible to be protected. As one example, a home appliance company was able to obtain a partial design registration for the uniquely-shaped air outlet used on one of its air conditioners, and subsequently was able to claim infringement against a competitor's air-conditioner product with a similarly-shaped air outlet, even though the overall product was dissimilar.
The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) recently released statistics regarding partial design applications in Korea over the last ten years. According to KIPO, the number of partial design applications has increased about threefold over the past 10 years, from 3,771 in 2011 to 10,107 in 2020, reflecting an average annual growth rate of 11.6% over this time period. Further, the proportion of partial design applications compared to all design applications in Korea has more than doubled in that time, from 6.4% in 2011 to 14.1% in 2020.
When looking at partial design applications filed last year according to product category, the application group with the largest number of filings was "electrical and communication devices," including digital electronic products such as mobile phones/wearable computers, which accounted for 3,322 out of the total of 10,107 applications (32.9%), followed by "household items" with 1,320 applications (13.1%), and "clothing and personal items" with 1,161 applications (11.5%).
Further, in 2020, Samsung Electronics (779 applications) and LG Electronics (734 applications) were overwhelmingly the largest filers of partial design applications in Korea, while the largest foreign filers included Google (155 applications), Apple (148 applications), and Nike (140 applications). The steady increase in partial design applications over the past 10 years (particularly by major domestic and foreign companies) suggests that the partial design system has been a useful tool for companies seeking to strengthen their design competitiveness.