Image designs as intellectual property rights
Korea, a dominant player in the global smartphone market and a rapidly rising IT powerhouse, has seen a noticeable growth in applications for image designs.

One of the major issues in the patent infringement cases between Samsung and Apple in 2012 was smartphone icons, which has led to a renewed focus on image designs expressed in displays. As such, applications for image designs have increased in related industries.

Image design rights are design rights for screen protectors, application icons, graphic images, and graphical user interfaces (GUIs-graphical icons used to interact with computer devices) expressed in the displays of computers, video game consoles, cell phones, and TVs, that are recognized, unlike other designs, through a special system introduced in 2003.

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), applications for image designs this year reached 1,784 by the end of September, 54% higher than the figure of 1,159 at the same time last year. In total in 2012 there were 1,732 applications, a 123% increase from 2011 (774 applications), which is an explosive rate of growth compared to the five-year average growth of 17% (to see application trends for image designs by year, please refer to Attachment Table 1).

By looking at the applications filed between 2003, when the system was introduced, and September 2013, we can gain a more detailed understanding on the types of goods for which image rights are obtained. Of the 9,971 applications those for ”®voice and video machines such as monitors, TVs and satellite navigation' accounted for more than half of the total with 5,496 (55.1%). This is followed by ”®notebooks, PDAs, and other mobile terminals' with 2,273 (22.8%) and ”®cellphones and other communication devices' with 1,511 (15.2%). Other categories include ”®displays for automobiles', the fourth highest with 139 applications, and ”®displays for refrigerators and other home appliances' for which 126 applications were received (to see the current status of applications by type, please refer to Attachment Table 2).

Samsung Electronics was the most active company with 1,740 applications, followed by Microsoft (1,050), Apple (762), LG Electronics (371), SK Telesys (152), and Naver (113). There were ten individuals with at least ten applications to their name (to see the current status of multiple applicants, please refer to Attachment Table 3).

"Image design is a new area for protection which has been developed to reflect the progress in the information communication technology field. Unlike existing design rights that protect the external shapes of goods, the overall shape and form, image design rights protect creative images on the displays of all kinds of devices," said Song Byeong-ju, the director of the Convergence Design Examination Division at KIPO. "Small and medium enterprises and individual applicants should therefore pay greater attention to image designs and apply more to ensure IPR competitiveness in Korea."

<Obtained from the website of KIPO (; posted on December 10, 2013>