APAA e-Newsletter (Issue No. 36, August 2023)

Preferment Measures for Semiconductor Applications Implemented in Korea

Eun Hye Jung and Kye-Young Lee, Firstlaw P.C. (Korea)


The Korean Intellectual Property Office (“KIPO”) has recently established the Semiconductor Examination Promotion Department (hereinafter referred to as the “Semiconductor Department”), a department to exclusively handle the examination of patent applications encompassing all aspects of semiconductor technology, from design to materials, components, and processing.  A pioneering initiative among major countries, the department has gone into operation effective April 11, 2023.

Further, an extemporary measure has been taken to expedite the examination of eligible semiconductor applications.  A request for expedited examination for such applications must be filed for a limited period from November 1, 2022 to October 31, 2023, however.

Structure of the Semiconductor Department

Comprised of six (6) divisions/teams, i.e., three (3) existing divisions and three (3) newly formed teams, the Semiconductor Department is staffed by a total of one hundred sixty seven (167) examiners (as shown in the Figure below).  The six (6) divisions/teams are the Semiconductor Fabricating Process Examination Division, the Semiconductor Design Examination Division, the Display Examination Division, the Semiconductor Material Examination Team, the Semiconductor Assembly Process Examination Team, and the Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment Examination Team.

The six (6) divisions/teams are formed by one hundred thirty six (136) existing examiners specializing in semiconductor technology, along with thirty (30) semiconductor experts from the private sector who were newly recruited in March of this year.  The strategic consolidation of examiners previously dispersed across various semiconductor-related examination divisions and the fresh hires from the private sector is expected to expedite examination times, enhance examination quality, and provide systematic protection for semiconductor-related technologies.

Addition of Semiconductor-related Patent Applications to the List of Expedited Examination

On November 1, 2022, the KIPO made amendments to Article 9 of the Enforcement Decree of the Korean Patent Act, which governs expedited examination.  The amendments added “patent applications related to advanced technologies such as semiconductors that are crucial for national economy and enhancing national competitiveness” to the expedited examination subject list, and further gave the KIPO Commissioner the authority to designate specific patent applications for expedited examination and determine the period during which the request for expedited examination could be made (see Article 9(1)(iitres) of the Enforcement Decree).

Following the amendments to Article 9 of the Enforcement Decree, the Commissioner of the KIPO announced that patent applications related to semiconductor technology have been designated as subjects for expedited examination, and further determined that request for expedited examination for such patent applications must be filed between November 1, 2022 and October 31, 2023.  Whether the KIPO will continue the expedited examination program beyond October 31 is yet to be seen.

A patent application subject to expedited examination shall be directly related to semiconductor technology and must meet the following criteria:

  1. The application be primarily classified as a semiconductor-related application under the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system, comprising the following classifications:

H01L (Semiconductor components, manufacturing);
G11C (Circuits related to semiconductor devices (driving));
G01R (Inspection of semiconductor devices);
H05K (Printed circuit boards);
H01S (Semiconductor lasers);
G03F (Photolithography process (related to semiconductor manufacture));
C23C (Deposition process (related to semiconductor manufacture));
H01J (Plasma process (related to semiconductor manufacture));
B24B (Polishing process (related to semiconductor manufacture));
B41J (Inkjet printing (related to semiconductor manufacture)); and
C30B (Crystal growth (related to ingots)).

  1. The application be (i) filed by a company engaged in the production or preparation for the production of semiconductor-related products or devices in Korea, (ii) related to the outcomes of national R&D projects for semiconductor technology, or (iii) filed by a university or graduate school specializing in semiconductors (including industry-academic cooperation foundations) under the “Special Measure Act for Strengthening and Protecting the Competitiveness of National Advanced Strategic Industries.”

For applicants seeking expedited examination of a patent application in the field of semiconductor technology being developed or manufactured in Korea, they can receive a patent examination result in an average of 2.5 months, approximately 10 months faster than before.

With the addition of semiconductor-related patent applications to the expedited examination list and the establishment of a dedicated organization for the examination of semiconductor-related patent applications, the KIPO anticipates a shortened examination process and enhanced examination quality.