(Oct. 15, 2010) On September 8, 2010, the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) launched the Special Judicial Police Squad to more effectively crack down on counterfeit goods, so-called “knockoffs,” and trademark offenders. While proud of its fourth ranking in terms of the number of applications for both domestic industrial property rights and international patents, South Korea was ranked by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland at 32 of 58 countries in terms of its protection of intellectual property rights in 2010. The grounds for the relatively low ranking include wide distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods in both offline and online markets in South Korea. (Press Release, Gong-gam Korea [Policy Portal Site of South Korean Government], The KIPO Strengthens Criminal Punishments for Distribution of Counterfeit Goods in Online and Offline Markets [in Korean] (Sept. 9, 2010), http://www.korea.kr/newsWeb/pages/brief/partNews2/view.do?toDate=&fr
To address this problem, the National Assembly amended the Act on Persons Performing the Duties of Judicial Police Officials and the Scope of Their Duties on May 4, 2010; the revised version came into force on August 5, 2010 (Act No. 380 of January 12, 1956 as amended by Act No. 10276 of May 4, 2010). The amended Act authorizes the Supreme Prosecutors' Office to appoint KIPO crackdown agents to be special judicial police officers who can search and confiscate counterfeit goods and arrest offenders. Prior to the amendment, KIPO agents, through joint operations with municipal authorities, could only uncover counterfeit goods being distributed and give administrative advice to the offenders to stop their illegal business activities. (Id.)
The Squad consists of 15 judicial police officers who will be stationed at three local bureaus in Seoul, Busan, and Daejeon. While the Squad focuses its forces on cracking down on those who manufacture, distribute, and sell counterfeit goods on a large scale, the municipal authorities will continue to monitor retail markets. (Seok-Yee Yoon, The KIPO Launches the Special Judicial Police Squad for Trademarks [in Korean], YONHAP NEWS (Sept. 7, 2010), http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid
KIPO is also planning to employ digital forensics tools by end of 2010 to reinforce the Squad's online investigations. A specialized online investigation team within the Squad will be launched in early 2011. The Squad will arrest offenders who sell counterfeit goods online, send them to prosecutors for further criminal proceedings, and shut down the web sites used to distribute the counterfeit goods. (Gong-gam Korea, supra.)
Written by Helen Lee, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Sayuri Umeda, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.