8.3.1 Judicial administration
184.108.40.206 Overview of Korean courts
The Republic of Korea has a three-level court system consisting of district courts, high courts and the Supreme Court. By type, there is the Supreme Court, high courts, district courts, the Patent Court, family courts, the administrative court and the bankruptcy court. Among the courts exercising specialized functions, the Patent Court is at the level of the high courts, while the family, administrative and bankruptcy courts are at the level of district courts. By level and region, courts are classified as follows: the Supreme Court is the court of last resort, located in Seoul; high courts handle appeals filed against judgments rendered by panels of district courts and are located in the six major cities, Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, Gwangju and Suwon; and there are 18 district courts across the country, which hear cases of first instance (by a single judge or a panel) as well as appeals filed against decisions rendered by single judges. District courts may have branch courts within their respective jurisdictions. There are currently 42 branch courts nationwide.10
Each trial is presided over by either a single judge or a panel of three judges. The judicial power of a high court, the Patent Court or an administrative court must be exercised by a panel of three judges (Article 7(3) of the Court Organization Act). The judicial power of a district court, family court or bankruptcy court is exercised by a single judge by default. However, certain district court cases are adjudicated by three-judge panels: any civil case where the value of the subject of the lawsuit exceeds KRW 500 million and any criminal case subject to capital punishment or imprisonment, with or without labor, for an indefinite term or for not less than one year in the short term (Article 32(1) of the Court Organization Act; such cases are referred to as “civil panel cases” and “criminal panel cases,” respectively).
Every court case in the Republic of Korea is presided by a judge, and no jury trial system is in place. Some criminal panel cases are eligible for public participation upon the request of the parties.11 However, a public participation trial is different from a jury trial under Anglo-American laws in that the verdict and sentencing opinions that the jurors may offer in a public participation trial do not bind the court.12 As explained later in Section 220.127.116.11., all criminal patent cases are single-judge cases and, therefore, not eligible for public participation. Figure 8.2 shows the judicial structure of the Republic of Korea.
18.104.22.168 Types of patent cases
Patent lawsuits are broadly classified into civil, administrative and criminal lawsuits. Civil patent lawsuits are further divided into cases on the merits and preliminary injunction cases. Merits cases involve infringement;13 the transfer, grant or extinguishment of patent rights; compensation for employee inventions; royalty payments; and so on. Administrative patent lawsuits are generally cases seeking the revocation of IPTAB decisions such as decisions upholding the examiner’s rejection to grant a patent or decisions ruling that a patent is invalid. Criminal patent lawsuits involve the acts punishable under Chapter XII of the Patent Act.14
22.214.171.124 Enforcement of concentrated jurisdiction over patent cases
Until 2015, the Patent Court had exclusive jurisdiction only over cases seeking the revocation of IPTAB decisions. Civil patent cases, such as infringement suits, like any other civil cases, were heard by district courts nationwide in the first instance and then appealed to the high courts or to the appellate divisions of district courts.15 This bifurcated system sent revocation cases for rejections and invalidations to the Patent Court and sent infringement and other civil cases to general civil courts. This two-track framework left room for contradictory outcomes in the Patent Court and general civil courts over the same patent. A civil court’s attempt to wait for the disposition of the IPTAB on invalidation or of the Patent Court on revocation to prevent inconsistency often led to prolonged dispute resolution.16
In response, the Court Organization Act and Civil Procedure Act were amended to enforce a concentrated jurisdiction system, effective from January 1, 2016, with the original jurisdiction of civil patent cases limited to a number of civil courts, and appeals in patent infringement suits under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Patent Court. District courts located where the high courts were seated were conferred with original and exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions in the first instance concerning patent, utility model, design, trademark and plant variety rights [hereinafter, “patent and other listed IP rights”], with the Seoul Central District Court having concurrent jurisdiction. As for appellate jurisdiction, the exclusive jurisdiction of the Patent Court was enlarged and now covered all civil appeals concerning patent and other listed IP rights, in addition to lawsuits seeking the revocation of IPTAB decisions. Figure 8.3 summarizes the current intellectual property (IP) jurisdiction in the Republic of Korea.
126.96.36.199 The Patent Court
The Patent Court opened on March 1, 1998, as a specialized court at the high court level, having jurisdiction over the entire country. Article 186(1) of the old Patent Act (prior to its amendment on January 5, 1995, under Law No. 4892) provided that, with regard to administrative patent suits (e.g., a revocation action against government agency decisions upon quasi-judicial trials), a party served with a decision of the Appellate Tribunal could appeal to the Supreme Court only on the ground that the decision was in violation of statute. This framework faced criticism for infringing upon the basic constitutional right of a person to trial by a judge.17 In response, the Supreme Court requested the Constitutional Court, on August 25, 1993, to find the above provision unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court consequently ruled it inconsistent with the Constitution.18
To implement the ruling, the Court Organization Act was amended to incorporate the two-step administrative trial process of the Tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal into one before the newly installed IPTAB. As for the judicial branch, the Patent Court was established at the high court level. Under this new system, lawsuits in objection to IPTAB decisions fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Patent Court, and appeals from the Patent Court went to the Supreme Court, allowing for the full adjudication of the factual and legal issues by the judiciary.19
The Patent Court first opened in Seoul but relocated on March 1, 2000, to Daejeon, the home of the KIPO and the Daedeok Science Town, where government-funded research institutes and laboratories of private companies, as well as educational institutions, such as the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, were concentrated.20 The court shared a building with the Daejeon High Court and the Daejeon District Court at the time of the relocation but later moved to the current Patent Court building on September 1, 2003, in response to the constant rise in the number of IP disputes, preparing itself for broader jurisdiction, more cases and more judges.
The Patent Court consists of the Chief Judge, judges, judicial technical examiners, judicial technical researchers, the International Intellectual Property Law Research Center and the Administration Bureau. The Chief Judge is in charge of the overall management of judicial administrative affairs, leading and supervising court officials, and serves as the presiding judge for trials of the special division.
The Patent Court currently has five general divisions, each consisting of three judges. Cases are randomly assigned to one of the five divisions. However, a special division may be formed – consisting of the Chief Judge and two judges from general divisions – to preside over certain cases: cases that could possibly become important precedent or call for further research, cases that carry great weight and are thus expected to significantly influence society, and cases that lack sufficient precedents for reference but with those of a similar nature pending in several divisions. A case meeting any of these criteria in a general division may be reallocated to the special division.21
Judicial technical examiners and judicial technical researchers provide support for adjudication, focusing on technical issues in the cases assigned to them based on their respective fields of technical expertise. Their roles and responsibilities are explained in greater detail in Section 188.8.131.52.2.
The International Intellectual Property Law Research Center consists of judicial researchers (judges) and nonjudge, full-time researchers. It conducts long-term research projects on major subjects that call for comparative studies as well as ad hoc projects for specific issues in ongoing cases. It also takes charge of the court’s international exchanges and cooperation.