Protecting Sound Trademarks in Korea

The United States and South Korea recently signed a bilateral free trade agreement which opens many doors between the two countries.  The major components went into effect on March 15, 2012.[1] The agreement was in the works for nearly five years before it was fully ratified.[2] The United States touts the Korea-USA Free Trade Agreement is the “most commercially significant free trade agreement in almost two decades.”[3] According to the United States Office of the Trade Representative the FTA’s of trade tariffs alone will add nearly $10 to $12 billion to the Annual Gross Domestic Product and nearly $10 billion in new exports to Korea.[4]

Interestingly, the United States required Korea to accept sound and scent marks into its trademark law as part of the FTA.  It is interesting that the United States requires its trading members to assent to these sorts of innocuous terms when they do not play a large role in United States’ trademark jurisprudence.  However, companies in the United Sates that wish to protect its sound marks abroad may want to take the time to register their sound marks in Korea as its Trademark law is governed by a first-to-file system.  Don’t think it’s a good idea?  Well, Korean companies do and so should you.

After researching the Korean Intellectual Property Rights Information Service, KIPRIS, this author found that several applications have been filed by Korean companies.  According to recent news the applications for sound trademarks are increasing since the FTA allowed registrations of these marks, however, there have been no applications for scent marks.[5]  It is expected that the first Korean sound trademark will be approved by fall 2013.[6] According to KIPO there have been a total of sixty sound applications since March 15, 2012.  Most of these applications have been filed by large companies in Korea. Forty-seven have been filed by LG, 4 by SK-Hynix, and one by Daesang.[7]  This data has been confirmed after a careful research of KIPRIS.[8] The companies are working to register the famous and highly recognizable sound marks used in their advertising. LG’s “띠러러러 00” which translates into “Ddri ri  ri ri 00″ and SK’s띵띵 띠리띵 “Dding Dding Ddi ri Dding” have been applied for by their respective companies. As this author has spent a great amount of time in Seoul, he can say that you cannot go far without hearing these jingles.[9]  Clearly from these applications there is an interest for Korean companies to protect their sound marks, however, it remains to be seen if theses will be granted, and what if any objection KIPO might have to these applications. Sixty applications in just six months from adopting sound marks shows Korean companies find value in these marks and will work to protect them.

[1] Office of United States Trade Representative on KOR-USA FTA

[2] Id

[3] Id

[4] Id

[5] Seoul Newspaper, 서울신문, (translated from Korean by Soo Jung Kim 김수정

[6] Id

[7] Id.

[8] To search KIPRIS visit there is an english service available which can be helpful for searching the database.

[9] If you’re feeling inclined you may search for each other these application in the KIPRIS database. For LG’s sounds search for Application numbers 4020120017884-40220120017890 for SK-Hynix search for application number 4129129911184, 4120120011037, and 4129129911183.  For Daesang famous jingle for organic food check 4520120001311 see for database


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