North Korea registers 8 trademarks, 3 patents in 2021 — Radio Free Asia

Although North Korea was largely shut down from the global economy, North Korea last year issued eight international trademarks and three international patents, according to recently released data.

Seven companies in North Korea registered the eight trademarks, one more than the year before, according to data from the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published last week.

The three patents registered by North Korean companies in 2021 were a “slanted flue kettle,” a “health instrument for sauna at room temperature and local radiation therapy” and a “local hemostatic composition.”

Soo Kim, a policy analyst at RAND Corporation, told RFA’s Korean Service that although North Korea sometimes registers international trademarks, it is unclear how many countries it interacts with economically, given the broad sanctions it is under and a poor track record for deals honestly with international partners.

“Through these trademarks, North Korea may seek to undermine the international community’s barriers to Pyongyang’s integration into the international community,” said Soo Kim.

She added that Kim Jong Un knows that the path to genuine integration with the international community depends on its nuclear disarmament and fundamental human rights protection.

To date, North Korea has registered about 100 international trademarks, data from WIPO show. By comparison, South Korean companies have registered approximately 4.2 million international trademarks.

This undated image released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 2, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the newly built Pyongyang sports equipment factory. Photo: KCNA / KCNA / AFP

To date, North Korea has registered a total of 55 patents, compared to about 200,000 registered by South Korean companies.

All of these companies that have received trademark protection are known to have been visited by Kim Jong Un.

He most recently visited the Sangwon Cement Factory in North Hwanghae Province’s Sangwon County, just south of Pyongyang. The state-run Korea Central News Agency reported on February 14 that he was handing over a gift to the cement company to encourage an increase in production.

Kim visited the Chollima tile factory in August 2014 after it was renamed. It had been linked to Jang Song Theak, Kim’s uncle, whom he had executed in 2013 in what observers believe was an attempt to consolidate power.

The court that convicted Jang said he had blocked an attempt to film video footage of the production process inside the factory as they supplied tiles needed for national monuments and mosaic murals that glorified North Korea’s former leaders.

In 2016, Kim inspected Pyongyang Sports Equipment Factory in Taesongsan, noting that its warehouse was filled with basketball, known for being his favorite sport. He said it was an important place to produce world-class sports equipment.

The other companies that registered international trademarks last year were Taesongsan Ice Cream Factory, HyangODong Plastic Packaging Company, RyuGyongGwan Restaurant and Mokran Kwangmyomg Film Distribution Company, which registered two trademarks.

North Korea joined the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1974 and signed the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 1980. North Korea has also signed the Paris Convention, a 1883 agreement on the international protection of industrial property rights. Currently, 140 countries including the United States and South Korea are signed members.

This undated image released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 2, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the newly built Pyongyang sports equipment factory. Photo: KCNA / KCNA / AFP

Washington’s patent attorneys told the RFA’s Korean service that anyone is eligible to file a patent application with WIPO. A patent application alone would not violate U.S. sanctions, they said.

“North Korea has signed the Paris Convention so it looks like North Korea can apply for and register a patent in the United States,” Yoon S. Ham, a Washington-based patent attorney, told RFA on January 6.

“North Korea can apply for a patent in the United States, receive registration and exercise its patent rights,” Ham said.

In fact, North Koreans applied for one patent and 10 trademarks in the United States between fiscal years 2016 and 2020, according to the latest U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Performance and Accountability Report.

North Korea’s contacts with WIPO are not without controversy. In 2012, the US government expressed concern that WIPO’s support package of computers and other information and communication equipment to North Korea could violate UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

In 2017, North Korea raised its eyebrows when it filed a patent application with WIPO for a method of producing sodium cyanide, a sanctioned compound with a primary use in gold mining.

WIPO did not respond to RFA’s requests for comment.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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