중앙데일리

[OUTLOOK]Korea Lags in World-Known Brand Names

World Cup 2002 gives Korea a chance to invest in developing its own intellectual property.

May 23,2001
The most famous brand in the world would be Coca-Cola's. Its value is said to be about 100 trillion won ($78 billion). The most valuable brand in Korea is "Anycall." Its value is said to be about 557.3 billion won.

Last year South Korea had to pay $3 billion in royalties for foreign technologies while it received $201 million from other countries for the royalties on its own technologies. The trade balance of technology is lopsided. Intellec-tual properties such as technology, design and brand are values newly spotlighted. They can be called the source of national competitiveness in the 21st century.

There was a time when manufacturers of sneakers in Pusan prospered. They used their own brands, but more often they put orderers' brands, usually famous foreign brands, on the sneakers.

Some shrewd manufacturers were able to make easy fortunes by deceiving customers with sneakers falsely labeled with famous brands. They did not try to develop their own brands using technologies acquired from the famous-brand companies.

Law enforcement authorities from time to time disciplined the manufacturers of the imitation sneakers. However, they were more often than not leniently punished because the amounts involved were trifling compared to the wealth of the foreign companies that held the brand rights.

For the most part, consumers in high income brackets preferred expensive sneakers with famous brands; those in the low income bracket liked only cheap imitation sneakers. That is why sneakers with Korean brands could not survive in the domestic market, let alone in foreign markets.

Our companies, including the manufacturers of sneakers, did not invest to develop their own technologies, designs and brands. They made money taking advantage of cheap labor, and put the money in real estate and stocks for the marginal profits. What were the consequences? They cannot compete any more with China and Southeast Asian countries in terms of cheap labor. That is why many companies subcontracting to foreign companies had to close down.

In the stores you will easily find sneakers manufactured in China under the names of internationally famous brands, while the sneakers with our own brands do not seem to be received well. This is due to manufacturers that have been negligent in developing technologies, designs and brands.

Neighboring Japan made extra efforts to develop technologies, designs and brands, with the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 as a springboard. They succeeded in making Japanese brands such as Mizno and Yonex rank among internationally prestigious names in sports products.

We, however, were unable to make the most of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Foreign tourists quite often stop by Itaewon, where we can hardly find products bearing our own brands, but cheap faked foreign products are abundant. Accordingly, we suffered the shame of having the United States Trade Representative put this country on its priority watch list for disregard of intellectual property rights for the past two years.

Fortunately, the number of applications for patent, utility model, design and brand submitted to the Industrial Property Office last year amounts to 282,673, a 22.4 percent increase from the 1999 figure of 231,028 .

Koreans applied to patent 1,573 items in foreign countries through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, an increase of 84 percent from 835 items in 1999. This country ranked 11th among 108 member countries of the treaty in terms of number of applications.

The Supreme Court newly set up the patent court. It also established a judicial division exclusively for disputes regarding intellectual property in every district court and high court, so that disputes can be resolved quickly and properly.

We have to count on knowledge productivity rather than labor productivity for the future of our economy. In order to develop a knowledge-based economy, companies should resolutely invest as much as possible in the development of intellectual property such as technologies, designs and brands. Government should envisage and implement policies that protect intellectual property developed by companies from appropriation by others.

The World Cup in 2002 will give us one more chance to make our own technologies, designs and brands known to the world. In order not to follow the example of the Seoul Olympics, the people and government should make hand-in-hand efforts.


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The writer is a lawyer at Kim & Chang Law Firm.


by Han Sang-ho




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