[Viewpoint] Korea must not be left behind again

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[Viewpoint] Korea must not be left behind again

The writer is the president of the Korea Patent Attorneys Association.
Japan was the first nation in Asia to catch on to the enormous power of the Industrial Revolution, remaking itself in the Meiji Restoration. The Korean Peninsula ignored the shift, and later became a colony of Japan. Today, Japan has its eye on a new revolution, and is changing its economy once again to take advantage of intellectual property.

And once again, Korea is unenthusiastic about this global change - but the longer it goes, the higher the possibility that it will become a new kind of colony, yoked to countries with more advanced technology. The trade deficit with Japan grows year by year, proving the point. In fact, the financial industry in the United States ignored the intellectual property revolution, too, and the consequence was the global financial meltdown.

It is not too late for Korea to rebuild a country based on the intellectual property revolution, just as Zhuge Liang used the southeastern wind to win a victory in the Battle of Red Cliffs. How can we do that?

First, education and national defense - the most important factors in the state budget - must be reformed. Elementary, middle and high school education, currently focused on college admissions, must be reformed to concentrate on the development of creativity.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said a nation’s competitiveness in the future will be decided by the capabilities of physicists and mathematicians. Education in these two disciplines is the basis of developing creative brains.

To this end, the role of universities must change. Universities must serve as Korea’s central research institutes to produce intellectual property. Those seeking doctoral degrees in applied sciences should be guided to create patented technology. Instead of working on a thesis on an individual basis, teams should be encouraged to create patentable theses. Through such changes, universities will become producers of intellectual property.

The defense budget and military manpower should also be effectively used to develop advanced technologies. If these can be converted into industrial technologies, the defense sector will also become an enormous producer of intellectual property.

Second, the government should be reformed to manage and encourage the production of intellectual property. The unique nature of Korea’s central and local governments can be used to create local specialties in intellectual property production, helping revive regional economies.

For example, a central government body specializing in agricultural patents could be established in South Jeolla, with a regulator of cultural property in North Jeolla. A maritime and fisheries patent body could be established in South Gyeongsang, while North Gyeongsang should host an educational patent office. Gangwon should be home to an environmental patent office and the Chungcheong region to a scientific intellectual property office.

This plan will not only allow each region to produce specialized intellectual property but also support a wider vision to reshape the country as an intellectual property producer. Furthermore, an electronic government system to back the program will also be possible. Following this plan, Korea will be able to function as a “company of brains” like I.B.M. or Qualcomm, and the government will serve as a network to plan and manage intellectual property.

Third, the four major rivers must be developed to use the land effectively, and the plan should focus on creating “knowledge belts” along them. Historically, Korea’s farming civilization and industrialization evolved along rivers. It is historically appropriate for an intellectual property economy to be developed and nurtured along them as well.

An IT belt, a biotech belt, a nano belt and an environmental technology belt should be created along the four rivers, and such a program would allow the four rivers restoration project to become the great power behind the intellectual property revolution.

Advanced nations are silently pushing the intellectual property revolution forward. More than 70 percent of the assets of the top 500 U.S. companies are pieces of intangible intellectual property. A company’s stock price also fluctuates depending upon its research.

The United States recently named David Kappos, former vice president and assistant general counsel for intellectual property law at I.B.M. Corporation, as the under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Japan has also established a basic law governing intellectual property, and the prime minister heads the newly created Strategic Council on Intellectual Property, pushing forward a policy to transform Japan into an intellectual property-based country.

One thing is clear. Intellectual property and patents have become the core of the global economy and of national strength. Korea once became a colony because it turned away from industrialization. If it ignores the knowledge revolution, it may become a colony once again, this time of intellectual property.

Education and national defense should be transformed into producers of intellectual property, and knowledge belts along the four major rivers should serve as the main arteries of the country. Government organizations should also be transformed to plan and manage the nation’s intellectual property. This transformation is urgent.

*The writer is the president of the Korea Patent Attorneys Association.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Rhee Shang-hi
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