South Korea recently overhauled its employment laws. Some of the most significant changes that may have an impact on business operations concern annual paid leave entitlements and fertility treatment leave, eligibility for childcare leave, protection for workplace sexual harassment victims, mandatory disability awareness training and the scope of the anti-discrimination statutes.
The Seoul High Court recently ruled that an employee's repeated personal use of his or her corporate card, in and of itself, may not always constitute sufficient just cause for termination. The court's ruling is an adverse precedent that may have an impact on many businesses as they consider whether to terminate an employee for personal use of corporate cards. However, this case is now pending before the Supreme Court.
In recognition of the hardship faced by emotional labour workers, there have been increasingly audible calls to improve their working environment, which has led to a view that employers must take proactive steps to protect the health and wellbeing of such employees. Although legislative changes have been insubstantial, the National Assembly of Korea recently passed legislative amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act which seek to protect emotional labour workers.
The National Assembly recently passed a legislative amendment designed to reform the Labour Standards Act. The new legislation is projected to have a significant impact on all industries and levels. According to a study by the Korea Economic Research Institute, the additional annual labour costs that companies will incur is likely to exceed W12 trillion ($11 billion) in total.
The Supreme Court recently ruled en banc that the AMERICAN UNIVERSITY trademark was sufficiently distinctive among South Korean consumers to be registered in connection with university education services, instruction services and other designated services. The court's reasoning is notable because it appears to hold that consumer awareness evidence can be used to prove the inherent distinctiveness of a mark in South Korea.
In a recent case, the Supreme Court appears to have essentially broadened the doctrine of equivalents to emphasise that structures in an accused product that are very different from claimed elements can still be 'equivalent', provided that the differences are conventional and the basic purpose of the invention is still achieved. The patent at issue related to a device for lifting a 'gang form' – a type of external scaffolding used in construction.
An important amendment to the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act will come into effect in July 2018. This amendment specifies the protection to be given to trade dress belonging to service providers in South Korea and introduces a new type of prohibited unfair competitive activity.
Numerous generics have filed challenges to the validity of patent term extensions in South Korea in the past few years, raising various issues of first impression. In November 2017 the Supreme Court rejected two of the major validity issues raised by the generics. Since then, the Patent Court and Intellectual Property Trial and Appeal Board have addressed various other legal issues.
The 2018 PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Act, which aims to prohibit the unauthorised use of Olympic Games-related symbols, logos and slogans, did not initially address the issue of ambush marketing, leading to some uncertainty as to whether ambush marketing activities might be tolerated. However, the government has now indicated its intention to regulate such activities by amending the act to add specific provisions on ambush marketing.