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South Korea’s rapid rise as a market for IP services

South Korea’s rapid rise as a market for IP services

As a member of the IP5, South Korea should be considered a strategically significant market for international IP service providers looking to grow their businesses. Korean companies are increasingly spending more and more on R&D, and with this comes an increase in the number of patents filed – and the need for specialist support.

New technologies  

Korea has particular strengths in ICT and telecommunications and, as its tech companies strive to become leaders in disruptive technologies, the opportunities for IP service providers in the country are considerable.

LG Electronics, for example, has recently been securing patents for 5G mobile communication, AI and autonomous driving. And LG and Samsung are in the top five 5G patent holders in the world. 

Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are also two of the largest companies using the PCT system. In 2019, Samsung filed 2,334 PCT patent applications while LG filed 1,646. 

Global innovators

In fact, Korean companies have established themselves as global innovators in the tech sector, particularly in semiconductors, consumer electronics and telecommunications. The major players – Samsung, LG, Hyundai and SK, for example – are all world leaders in their respective industries. 

Samsung Electronics alone spent an all-time high of USD $16.6 billion on R&D in 2019. Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors combined spent USD $4.05 billion last year, while SK Hynix - the chip manufacturing subsidiary of SK Group - spent USD $2.62 billion.

As their patent portfolios grow, companies need the latest software to manage their IP. They also need IP search and analytics tools to make sure they have the edge over their competitors.

And this doesn’t just apply to a handful of major Korean corporations. Statistics show that Korea’s IP market as a whole is expanding – and is much larger than many realize. 

According to WIPO, the country ranked fifth worldwide for PCT filings in 2019, with more than 19,000 patents filed - and this number is growing every year. And Korea recorded a 12.8% increase in filings from 2018 to 2019, the steepest growth globally. 

At this rate, South Korea is poised to overtake Germany at fourth place soon. 

Presence abroad

On the back of this global success, Korean companies have naturally established a strong presence abroad. 

LG Electronics announced in March 2020 that it holds more than 60,000 patents overseas. Samsung Electronics holds approximately 87,000 in the US alone. In fact, it’s the largest holder of registered patents in the US - with LG close behind in fifth place. Three other Korean companies are also in the top 100 – SK Group at 55th place, Hyundai Motors at 64th and LG Display at 67th.

In addition, as these conglomerates lead the push to register patents abroad, other corporations and smaller companies are following suit.

In the world’s largest IP markets of the US, Japan, Europe and China, Korean companies filed nearly 67,000 patent applications in 2019. This is an 11% increase on 2018, with this number expected to grow even more in the coming years. 

And, as Korean companies expand their overseas IP presence and enter new territories, they’re looking to monetize their intellectual property portfolios – for which they need the right IP software and services, including translation.

Litigation support

On top of this, the global strength of Korean companies makes them prominent targets for litigation. 

Be it competitors looking to knock rival products out of the market or non-practicing entities (NPEs) demanding royalties, they’re increasingly finding themselves caught up in patent disputes.

In 2019, a staggering 71% of NPE-filed lawsuits in the US involved Korean companies. Under fire from such NPEs, they may well need help from international IP law firms.

Significant market

South Korea, then, has emerged as a significant IP market. But the presence of international IP service providers here is still small compared with our Asian neighbors. 

So, if you don’t have a Korea strategy yet, the time to get planning is now. The country’s top conglomerates and smaller firms alike need high quality IP support, and they know the best place to find this is frequently overseas.


If you’d like to discuss the opportunities in South Korea for your IP services or tools business, you can reach Jason Whang at

Jason Whang
About the Author

Jason Whang

Jason Whang is based in our Seoul office, helping western tech businesses and IP service providers expand into South Korea. Originally from the US, Jason is fluent in Korean and has lived in Korea for more than 10 years.

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