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Korea: Major revision of the utility model law under discussion

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The Korean Patent Office (KIPO) proposed a comprehensive amendment of the utility model legislation. Some of the most important provisions of the draft include the following:

  • change in terminology from "utility model" (실용신안) to "small invention" (소발명);
  • relaxed requirements for inventive step
  • reduction of term from previously 10 years to 5 years from filing day
  • reduction of period for submitting examination request from previously 3 years to 14 months from filing
  • requirement for applicant to prove planned implementation of the invention at time of examination request to avoid misuse of system by non-practicing entities (NPE).

The aim of the amendment is to make utility models more popular again. The number of annual utility model filings in Korea has steadily decreased over the last years from almost 70,000 in 1996 to about 5500 only in 2019.

According to the publication from KIPO, a major reason for the decline in popularity has been the lack of differentiation from patents. In Korea, utility models have to undergo not only a formality examination (as in many other jurisdictions) but also a substantive examination procedure similar to patents. Even though the requirements for the inventive step are different on paper, they have been recently treated similar for patents and utility models by examiners.

According to KIPO, the aim of the revised law is to make utility model protection easier available for inventions with a shorter lifecycle such as the ones filed by SME, Start-ups or micro-enterprises.

The proposal was published in September 2020, followed by a period of public consultation. In order to be enacted, the draft amendment must be accepted by the parliament.

For more information, please refer to the publication dated 25 September 2020 on KIPO's section for legislation notices (in Korean only).

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