KIPO Special Judicial Police on the Rise – Especially for Trade Secret Matters
Sun-Keun Yoon, Kim & Chang (Korea)
The Special Judicial Police (SJP), a division of the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), has been a huge success since it was first established in 2010 with the authority to conduct criminal investigations and raids in connection with trademark infringement cases. The SJP is building on its earlier successes after a March 2019 amendment expanded the scope of its authority to include investigations of patent infringement, design infringement, and trade secret misappropriation cases. With a recent reorganization and expansion of the SJP as well as potential amendments on the horizon, the so-called “Technology Police” is looking to continue its upward trend.
In July 2021, KIPO substantially reorganized and expanded the former “Intellectual Property Investigation Division” (which included the SJP), by adding additional members in order to further bolster the Technology Police. The Intellectual Property Investigation Division is now divided into three independent departments: the Technology Police Division, the Trademark Police Division, and the Unfair Competition Investigation Division. In particular, the Technology Police Division specializes in technology cases, and its members include those with substantial experience in patent examinations and trials, as well as various experts including attorneys, patent attorneys, doctors and pharmacists.
The Korean government is also considering streamlining technology-related criminal cases by assigning exclusive jurisdiction of SJP investigation cases to the Daejeon Prosecutors’ Office (PO) and to the Daejeon District Court.
The success and effectiveness of the SJP and the Technology Police is demonstrated by the substantial increases in the number of cases, both in terms of new criminal charges brought by SJP as well as referrals to the PO upon completion of investigation, as shown below.
Of particular note is the large increase in trade secret cases, with the number of criminal charges doubling each year and the number of PO referrals soaring from 9 cases in 2020 to 68 cases in 2021. In a notable recent case (from December 2021), the SJP worked with the Daejeon PO and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to indict 7 individuals who misappropriated “Overhead Hoist Transfer” related trade secrets (used for semiconductors and displays), preventing an estimated 115 billion won worth of damages. The initial complaint was filed in January 2020, and by May 2020, the SJP, together with the NIS, were able to obtain critical evidence through a search and seizure.
The number of search and seizure warrants obtained by the Technology Police has been increasing in recent years, growing from 12 in 2019, to 17 in 2020 and 37 in 2021 (mostly for trade secret cases). Notably, evidence obtained through a search and seizure may also be used in future civil litigations involving the defendant. It is also interesting to note that the Technology Police investigations have been primarily targeting individuals and small businesses (34% and 61.1% of all cases, respectively).
In view of the expanding scope and presence of the SJP, we would encourage IP right holders to explore ways that the SJP may be used to better protect IP rights, especially for trade secret cases.