APAA e-Newsletter (Issue No. 28, April 2022)

Patent Applications in Korea Increase during the Pandemic

Hyekyung (Esther) Hwang, CENTRAL Intellectual Property & Law (Korea)

Despite the tough economic conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 600,000 Intellectual Property (IP: patents, utility models, designs and trademarks) applications were filed in Korea in 2021, which constitutes an all-time high.

The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) announced that the total number of domestic IP applications in 2021 was 592,615, which marks an increase of 6.3% over the previous year. Despite the prolonged pandemic, the average rate of increase in total IP application filings during COVID-19 (2020 to 2021) has been 7.7%, greatly exceeding the average rate of increase of IP application filings over the past 10 years (2010 to 2019) of 3.6%.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups led the increase in IP applications last year. In 2021, the number of IP applications filed by SMEs and start-ups was 183,796 in total, or an increase of about 11% over the previous year. This increase rate is clearly higher than the rate of IP applications filed by conglomerates (- 0.8%), universities and public research institutes (6.1%), and individuals (4.3%) during the same period. Start-ups in particular made a remarkable achievement by filing a total of 62,845 IP applications, which is the average rate of increase of 19.8% and three times more than the overall average (6.3%).

The number of patent applications filed in 2021 was 237,998, an increase of 5.0% compared to 2020. This showed the highest growth in recent years. The number of patent applications filed by start-ups is growing annually, and it appears that application filings have increased because these companies seek patents as they grow the technology basis of their business. The number of patent applications filed by foreign entities had decreased after 2018, but largely rebounded in 2021 (increased by 11.7% compared to the previous year). This also contributed to the overall increase in application filings.

There was a noticeable increase in patents filed in technical fields that are involved in the acceleration of digital transformation such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), mobile shopping, and online communication. The top five technical fields with an increasing rate of patent applications filed in 2021 were ① AI (+14.4%), ② mobile shopping (+13.9%), ③ online communication (+9.5%), ④ elevators and packing machines (+7.9%), and ⑤ biotechnology (+7.3%).

The resilience of Korea’s economy and businesses despite the ongoing pandemic is clearly illustrated by the consistent increase in IP filings by Korean companies over the past year. SMEs, start-ups, and individuals accounted for 65.2% of the total IP application filings in 2021, and these numbers continue to grow. These trends point to an overall strengthening of IP activities in South Korea.