특허법인 남앤남

Practice Notes Strengthened provisions for keeping designs secret

When a design application is filed, no details are publicly disclosed unless specifically requested by the applicant. Differing to patent applications, which are published in full after a fixed period of time in order to prevent redundant research and investment, the details of design applications are disclosed via publication in the Design Gazette at the time of registration. In Korea, it is possible to postpone this disclosure even longer by utilizing the “secret design” system.

Secret design system

In contrast with technical innovations typically protected by patent, designs are relatively easier to imitate and steal from others, and are also subject to fast-moving trends. There will thus be situations when it is desirable to keep a design confidential even after registration, such as when the commercialization of the product has not yet been realized.

The secret design system prevents the full content of a design application from being disclosed even after registration, while the fact the design is registered may still be confirmed in the publicly-accessible register alongside other bibliographic details such as applicant/inventor details, application/registration dates, etc. When using this system, the applicant can request to keep the design “secret” for up to three years after the date of registration, and for multiple-design applications can choose to keep all or only some of the embodiments secret.

In principle, in the absence of a secret design request, the full content of a design application is published in the Design Gazette upon registration of the design. Until now, where a request is made to keep the design secret the following details have been withheld:

What has changed?

Until now, even if a secret design request was made, the title of the product and its Locarno classification were still disclosed. However, it was considered that this system should be improved to allow applicants stronger protection and enable more strategic management when applying for new product designs.

To this end, from April 1, 2021, where a request is made to keep the design secret the following details will also be withheld:

The below table summarizes exactly what is disclosed and kept confidential under the revised secret design system:

Details disclosed upon publication of registered design Details not disclosed
  • Name/address of rights holder
  • Partial or full-examination eligibility *
  • Name/address of creator(s)
  • Application number/date
  • Registration number/date
  • Drawings/photographs
  • Essentials of creation
  • Design description
  • Product title
  • Locarno classification

* Designs in Locarno Classes 01, 02, 03, 05, 09, 11 and 19 are subject to “partial examination”. See here for more details.

Use of the secret design system

Since 2016 there have been more 2,000 secret designs requests per year, reaching 2,729 last year (2020), or roughly 3.8% of all applied-for designs, a number which has more than doubled compared to 2014 data:

Year: 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
No. of secret designs: 1,232 1,775 2,072 2,100 2,113 2,426 2,729

After a design application is filed, the applicant can request that the design be kept secret at any time between the application filing date and the date on which the registration fee is paid. As mentioned above, the period of confidentiality can be up to three years following the registration date, and upon request the applicant can choose to shorten/extend this period as they wish (up to the maximum three years).

Latest posts by Ben YUU (see all)

    2021-04-02 14:06:07

    Send us a message

    We usually respond within a few hours

    If you agree to use personal information, please check the box.