Firm Profile > Lee & Ko > Seoul, South Korea
Lee & Ko Offices
63 NAMDAEMUN-RO, JUNG-GU
Lee & Ko > The Legal 500 Rankings
Lee & Ko's antitrust and competition department comprises former officials of the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) and ex-judges of Korean courts, including the Supreme Court. Matters pertaining to cartels, abuse of dominance, merger control, unfair trade practices and antitrust litigation all fall within the remit of the group. Blue-chip clients from a wide range of industry sectors (including semiconductors, automotive, pharmaceuticals, shipping and financial services) regularly instruct the firm. The practice was marked by a recent uptick in investigation work, especially in cases seeing Korean conglomerate 'chaebol' businesses accused of unfair trade practices. Team head Hwan Jeong has a wide-ranging practice. Also highly recommended are managing partner Yong Seok Ahn and Suruyn Kim. Min-Ho Lee departed for Kim & Chang.
Federation of Korean Music Performers
21 Century Fox
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited
LG Corp. / LG Electronics
Biogen Therapeutics Inc.
Yang-ho Cho (Chairman, Hanjin Group)
Lotte Asset Development / Lotte Fuji Film / Lotte Global Logis
Korean Association of Paediatricians
Cargill Agri Purina, Inc.
Huawei / MediaTek / Samsung Electronics
Lee & Ko's practice encompasses the full gamut of banking and finance work including project finance, acquisition finance, structured finance, securitisation, trade finance and derivatives transactions. The firm has both major Korean banks and multinational financial institutions on its enviable client list. Woo Young Jung, who leads the practice, has a strong historical record of handling matters related to ship financing, securitization and banking regulation. Yeo Kyoon Yoon and Myoung Chul Kwak are some other key practitioners. Yoon was involved in some of the firm's most recent and significant acquisition financing highlights while Kwak is noted for his expertise in leveraged finance transactions.
Lee & Ko's M&A practice has been a pillar of the firm's work since the firm's inception in 1977. Hyun Tae Kim, Sang Gon Kim and Hyeong Gun Lee jointly lead the team, whose outstanding deal execution capabilities make it a strong choice for Korean and cross-border transactions. Its extensive experience spans a multitude of industries, such as construction, financial services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, energy, logistics and technology, among various others. In 2018, Sang Gon Kim, Ho Joon Moon, Ki Wook Kang and Seung Hwan Lee were among the advisers to The Carlyle Group on the sale of ADT Caps to to SK Telecom and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets. In another highlight, Sang Gon Kim, Jang Hyuk Yeo, Sung Min Kim and others acted for LG Electronics and LG Corporation on their acquisition of ZKW Holding GmbH (an Austria-based automotive lighting and headlight systems provider) for $1.25bn. Yong Joon Yoon, Edward Kim and Kyungchun Kim are also notable individuals. Chee Kwan Kim joined from Clifford Chance.
‘The team always does its best. Feedback is very accurate and timely‘
‘Jang Hyuk Yeo always delivers satisfactory results. He has expertise in American law and Korean law‘
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
LG Electronics Inc.
SK Telecom Co., Ltd.
Korea Development Bank
IMM Private Equity
LG Household & Health Care
Shinhan Financial Group
Lee & Ko's depth of manpower underpins its ability to assist clients with large, high-profile and high-stakes litigation, with it housing practitioners active in 40 different practice groups. In addition to being adept in domestic matters, a sizeable portion its team's workload has a cross-border dimension, notably in areas such as white-collar crime, shipping and insurance. A group led by Pyoung Keun Song and Jongsoo (Jay) Yoon recently represented the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) in court proceedings issued by Facebook Ireland Ltd; the case arose from the KCC's imposition of fines because Facebook changed a connection path, which slowed down the speed of users attempting to access Facebook through SK Broadband and LG Uplus. In 2018, the firm acted for Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd in a lawsuit filed by retired pilots seeking a judgment that no debt was due for loans provided by the airline to finance participation in flight training courses. Won Seok Ko heads up the team, which includes administrative litigation head Seon Tae Kim and Chan Ik Jang, who leads on construction and real estate litigation. Seong Won Chang, Yang Suk Han, Jeong Kyoo Han and Sang Yong Ra each have over 20 years of experience serving as judges. Jae Heon Park is another key figure.
Hyundai Heavy Industries
LG Chem Ltd
Korea Development Bank
Lotte Shopping Co. Ltd
Booyoung Group Co., Ltd
Bristol Myers Squibb
Insurance: local firms Tier 1
Lee & Ko's broad practice includes advising on regulations and transactions, as well as representing clients on contentious issues. Jin Hong Kwon is one of three practice heads and has extensive experience in advising on regulatory compliance. Fellow practice head John JungKyum Kim is particularly skilled in advising international clients and works on advisory, transactional and contentious issues. Also leading the team Jae Hwan Kim, who focuses on corporate and commercial insurance matters. Other important members of the team include Jin-Young Jung, who specialises in maritime insurance; Chongsu Seo, who is well known for acting on behalf of insurers in claims issues; and Sae Um Kim, who advises on regulations and insurance claims.
ABL Life Insurance Co., Ltd., formerly known as Allianz Life Insurance Co., Ltd
Ace American Fire Marine Insurance Co., Ltd (Korea Branch)
AIA Group Limited (AIA Korea)
AIG (American International Group) Insurance Co., Ltd.
Aon Korea Inc.
Aon Singapore Pte. Ltd.
Arch MI Asia Limited
BNP Paribas Cardif General Insurance Co., Ltd.
Chubb Life Insurance Co., Ltd.
Compagnie Française d’Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur
DB Insurance Co., Ltd.
DB Life Insurance Co., Ltd.
Euler Hermes Hong Kong Services Limited
Euler Hermes Korea Non-Life Broker, Co., Ltd.
General Insurance Association of Korea
General Reinsurance Corporation
Hanjin Busan Newport Co., Ltd.
Hanwha General Insurance Co., Ltd.
Heungkuk Fire Marine Insurance Co., Ltd.
Heungkuk Life Insurance
Hyundai Life Insurance Co., Ltd.
Hyundai Marine and Fire Insurance Co., Ltd.
ING Life Insurance Co., Ltd.
Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) Asia
KB Insurance Co., Ltd.
Korea General Insurance Association
Korea Life Insurance Association
Un Ho Kim leads the IP department at Lee & Ko, which comprises IP trial lawyers and patent attorneys who possess expertise across a broad range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, telecommunications and software. Besides patent and trade mark prosecution, the group also acts for clients in cases pertaining to trade secrets and unfair competition and copyright enforcement. The firm's dedication to further developing its offering was evinced by the 18 new clients who recently instructed it on IP matters, including Korean media giant BigHit Entertainment. Choong Jin Oh and Hui Jin Yang are both highly recommended. Also of note is Young Mo Kwon, whose practice in this area spans over 30 years.
Bristol Myers Squibb
JNC Corporation / JNC Petrochemical Corporation
Robert Bosch GmbH
JJGC Industria E Comercio de Materiais Dentarios S.A
The Face Shop
Actial Farmaceutica S.R.L.
Epic Games Inc.
Giorgio Armani S.p.A.
Ericsson-LG Co., Ltd.
ITS Games Co., Ltd.
Hyungji I&C Corp.
Hanwha Q Cells Co., Ltd.
Daewoong Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.
Big Hit Entertainment
International arbitration Tier 1
Lee & Ko has a growing and varied portfolio of complex arbitration cases, with Sean (Sungwoo) Lim and Robert Wachter jointly leading the team, which acts as the lead counsel in the majority of its matters. David Kim has been instrumental in increasing the volume of construction arbitration work undertaken by the firm, and generates mandates from large construction companies such as Hyundai Rotem and GS Engineering & Construction. Elsewhere, the firm is active in matters with a nexus to shipping, life sciences, sport and energy and natural resources, among other sectors. In one highlight, the team is acting for the CEO of Kyobo Life Insurance in a $2bn shareholder dispute. On the investor-state side, Lim, Wachter, Kim, Sanghoon Han and others are acting as co-counsel to the Korean government in an arbitration brought by Mason Capital LP and Mason Management LLC over the client's alleged intervention in the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. The team is also acting as co-counsel to the Korean government in a similar matter brought by Elliott Associates. Sunyoung Kim is another name to note.
‘The team is highly responsive to clients’ demands. Also, it builds up strong legal theories based on thorough factual investigations. The team doesn’t allow for any kind of vague assumptions as to facts‘
‘David Kim’s youth and energy belies his experience of international disputes. He knew how to lead the case and client‘
‘Everyone in this team is professional and excellent. Robert Wachter is really smart and dedicated. He always answers queries and is willing to listen our thoughts‘
Republic of Korea
Chang Jae Shin
Korea East-West Power Co., Ltd
Hyundai Rotem Co., Ltd
Mitsubishi Tanebe Pharma Corporation
Republic of Korea Navy
Hyundai Steel Company
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd
GS Engineearing & Construction Corporation
Duskin Hong Kong Company Ltd
Lee & Ko's practice advises investors, insurers, contractors, government agencies and banks in regards to project and energy matters. The firm undertakes domestic and cross border work in power projects and in relation to conventional and renewable energy matters. Dong Eun Kim, co heading the team, represented Shinhan BNP Parisbas Asset Management and Korea Investment & Securities in restructuring financing for Uikeongbu Light Rail. Tom Shin , also a co head, has been active on financing for renewable energy projects, including wind and solar. Hun Ko has acted for financial institutions and construction companies in relation to project finance for renewable energy, PPI projects and real estate work. Hyunsu Kim, experienced in infrastructure projects, real estate development and project finance, is recommended.
Real estate: local firms Tier 1
Besides regularly handling high-value commercial property transactions, Lee & Ko has also developed a strong reputation for contentious real estate work including disputes arising from the construction sector; Chang Ik Chang is the name to note on this front. Reconstruction and redevelopment mandates and Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) related work are some other core areas of operation. Jin Wook Yang is recommended for his real estate development expertise. Yang is joined by Junghwan Lee and Dong Seok Woo, whose practices encompass both domestic and overseas projects, in leading the offering. Also notable is Jee In Kim, who specialises in matters involving overseas real estate investment by Korean institutional investors.
Hana Alternative Asset Management
Shinhan Alpha Yongsan Reits
Hyundai Engineering CO., LTD
Ryukyung PSG Asset Management Company
Samsung E&C Corporation
Pine Street Asset Management
IGIS Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Samsung SRA Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Mirae Asset Daewoo Co., Ltd.
United Partners Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Hyundai Investments Co., Ltd.
NomuraRifa Asset Management
Vestas Investment Management
LB Asset Management Inc.
KTB Asset management Co.
Korea Asset Investment Management
Praised as ‘one of the top firms in Korea for government investigations’, the team at Lee & Ko also handles regulatory and compliance matters in the competition, financial regulation, tax, employment, environment and automobile sectors, among others. With the support of an in-house digital forensics team, the department is split between white-collar crime, compliance and internal investigation practices which are headed by Chang-Hee Suh and Kyunghoon Lee. A standout name to note is Tae Yop Lee who is a market leader for corporate crime liability, foreign exchange and trade-related breaches. He recently formed a team representing Hanjin Group and Koren Air in charges which included criminal breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing transactions and embezzlement.
‘Kyunghoon Lee’s team is very professional and kind.’
‘Kyungoon Lee is very professional and kind.’
‘Lee & Ko is one of the top firms in Korea for government investigations whether in Korea or cross-border.’
‘Kyunghoon Lee and Taek-Rim Oh are both bilingual attorneys who can manage complex issues that arise in these investigations. They are familiar with working with both Korean and U.S. companies which is a key core competency in this area.’
Hanjin Group (Korean Air)
Incublock Co., Ltd.
Daehan Oil Pipeline Corp.
BonIF Co., Ltd.
Ferrotec Advanced Materials
Shipping: local firms Tier 1
At Lee & Ko, Jin Young Jung heads up a specialist team which focuses on shipping disputes. Contentious work spans areas such as marine casualty, ship arrests, marine cargo claims, shipping insolvency and marine insurance claims. In 2018, Jin Young Jung and Lee Sang-hyeop defended Meritz Fire & Marine Insurance Co against a lawsuit brought by Korea Development Bank (as pledgee of the insurance claim) in relation to the sinking of vehicle-passenger ferry MV Sewol. Yang Ho Yoon is also recommended for maritime disputes. Yun Jeong Suh, who leads the shipping finance practice, acts for a mix of domestic and international financial institutions, and shipping companies. Elsewhere, the firm has a strong track record advising on shipping regulation, and ship sales and purchases, among other matters.
‘They are very good on the law and also extremely commercial in their advice and practice. They are also very responsive when required‘
‘Jin Young Jung is very astute and experienced‘
Hyundai Merchant Marine Co, Ltd
Pan Ocean Co., Ltd. (formerly known as STX Pan Ocean)
SM Korea Line Corporation
Sammok Shipping Co., Ltd
Bookuk Shipping Co., Ltd
Taeyoung Shipping Co., Ltd
Lotte Global Logistics Co., Ltd. (formerly known as Hyundai Logistics)
Samsung SDS Co., Ltd
Pantos Logistics Co., Ltd
CJ Korex Co., Ltd
Orient Shipyard Co., Ltd
Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd
Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd
China Eastern Airlines
Meritz Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd
HanJoong Ship Machinery Co., Ltd
Korean RE SK Networks Co., Ltd
Hyundai Glovis Co., Ltd
TMT: local firms Tier 1
TMT is a core area of practice for Lee & Ko, where the team continue to be involved in the regulatory side; advising on the establishment of legislation and regulatory guidelines aimed at promoting data economy, artificial intelligence, and big data. The practice also has notable expertise across a range of IT, telecom, media, fintech, data privacy and litigation. Department head Soon-Yub Samuel Kwon advises on various corporate, investment and commercial transaction, while Kwang Bae Park has a particular focus on issues arising in the telecom services, media, Internal portal services, open-market platforms, and online advertising. Hwan Kyoung Ko, Ju Bong Jang and Hyunjun Kim are also of note.
Capital markets: local firms Tier 2
Lee & Ko is active in the debt capital markets, equity capital markets, derivatives, private equity and investment funds arenas. Areas of expertise include subordinated bonds, hybrid bonds, securitization, domestic and cross-border IPOs, disputes and regulatory matters. The firm has particular expertise in the fintech and bio-tech sectors and advises banks, insurance companies, securities companies, asset management companies, credit-specialized financial companies, financial holding companies, major corporates and public enterprises. Wonsik Choo is recommended for his experience in equity issuances, IPOs, listing, de-listing, M&A financing and compliance. Hyunjoo Oh is adept at handling securities, structured capital market products, derivatives, capital markets licensing, compliance issues, foreign exchange regulations and disputes.
Citigroup Global Markets Inc.
Daeshin Securities Co., Ltd.
DBS Bank Ltd
Export-Import Bank of Korea
Hanwha Asset Management Co., Ltd.
J.P. Morgan Securities LLC
JR AMC Co., Ltd.
KB Securities Co., Ltd.
KDB Infra Asset Management Co., Ltd.
KEB Hana Bank
Kiwoom Securities Co., Ltd.
Korea Asset Investment Management Co., Ltd.
Korea Investment & Securities Co., Ltd.
Korea Investment Corporation
Korea Transportation Asset Management
KTB Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Kyobo Securities Co., Ltd.
Goldman Sachs International
Hana Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Hana Financial Investment Co., Ltd.
Macquarie Asset Management
MERITZ Securities Co., Ltd.
Mirae Asset Daewoo Co., Ltd.
Mizuho Bank, Ltd.
Multi Asset Global Investments Co., Ltd.
National Pension Service
Rhinos Asset Management Co., Ltd.
Samsung Securities Co., Ltd.
Shinhan Investment Corp.
SK Securities Co., Ltd.
The Korea Development Bank
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited
Yuanta Securities Korea Co., Ltd.
Lee & Ko advises clients on layoff strategy, collective bargaining negotiations, performance improvement schemes and covers the full spectrum of labour and employment disputes. Sang-Hoon Lee and Chang-Soo Jin jointly spearhead the practice group and recently welcomed consultant Yong Hee Lee from the Ministry of Employment and Labour to the practice. Senior associate William Kim has developed an expertise in advising foreign clients on employment contracts, changes to work rules, sexual harassment investigations, employment discrimination, general compliance matters, employee discipline and terminations, amongs others. He is a key contact alongside Jae-Hoon Choi and Yong Moon Kim .
‘The team is professional and knowledgeable. It is able to provide professional legal advice based on the client’s business needs and model.’
‘Lee & Ko represents the best value for money in Korea.’
‘The key factor is a strong, and well-organized teamwork which stems from its members’ diverse professional backgrounds. The team can answer and respond every single questions to handle the pending issues always in a timely manner. Lee & Ko is one of top 5 law firms in Korea due to its scale and diversity.’
‘William Ko who is the main contact I have with Lee & Co always provide detailed explanation and tailor the advice based on our business need and model. He is responsive and acts on request in an efficient manner.’
‘Sang Hoon Lee is recommended because of his knowledge, expertise and client-friendliness.’
‘Hyunseok Song, a labour team partner has more than 15 years of work experiences with wide range of practice area in a labour law market. He has rich experience in both private and public sectors, and is always ready to respond issues of urgent situations.’
Trade & Investment Queensland
Japanese Tobacco International
Tax: local firms Tier 2
Jay Shim and Myung Sub Kim jointly lead the tax practice group at Lee & Ko. The offering spans bespoke corporate tax advisory, assistance with tax audits, tax planning (both inbound and outbound) and customs law cases. On the contentious side, the team handles both administrative tax disputes and tax litigation. A number of recent arrivals further strengthened the bench, which now accommodates 4 former research judges from the tax division of the supreme court; especially of note is ex-chief research judge Sung Hwan Kim, who joined in March 2019. Also recommended are Byeong Jun Son and Sung Hyun Ryu, both of whom possess significant litigious tax expertise.
Bayer Korea Ltd.
NH Amundi Investment & Securities
Baring Private Equity Asia
Polaris Shipping Co., Ltd.
Songwon Industrial Group
Hwagok 3 Reconstruction Association
Police Mutual Aid Association
Korean Veterans Association
STX Offshore & Shipbuilding
Korea Trade Insurance Corporation
Hanwha Asset Management
Samsung SRA Asset Management
Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering
Korea Development Bank
Quilvest Private Equity
Alazar Technologies Inc.
Beijing Kunlun Tech Co., Ltd.
Showbox Co., Ltd
Korea Professional Golf Association
United Air Lines, Inc.
Lee & Ko > Firm Profile
- Premier full-service law firm in Korea
- Founded in 1977, and comprising more than 700 professionals, organized into 7 practice groups with 40 specialty teams
- One-stop service for all legal needs, based on efficient collaboration among highly specialized team
- Emphasis on responsiveness & practical solutions
- 7 major practice groups: (i) corporate and M&A, (ii) banking, finance and securities, (iii) litigation (both civil and criminal) & alternative dispute resolution (iv) tax & customs, (v) antitrust & competition, (vi) labour & employment and (vii) intellectual property
- 40 specialised teams : Within the firm’s seven major practice groups there are approximately 40 highly specialised teams of legal professionals including the following: anti-corruption & FCPA; antitrust & competition; aviation; banking; bankruptcy, insolvency & corporate restructuring; capital markets & securities; class actions & consumer claims; construction; consumer goods & services; corporate and M&A; corporate governance; derivatives; dispute resolution; energy; entertainment; environment; finance (acquisition finance, asset finance, project finance, structured finance); foreign direct investment; healthcare; industry & manufacturing; infrastructure; insurance; intellectual property; internal investigations; international practice (Chinese, European, Japanese practice); international trade; investment funds; labour & employment; maritime & shipping; overseas investment; private equity & venture capital; privatisation; product liability; real estate; regulatory compliance; tax & customs (tax consulting, audits, dispute resolution, transfer pricing); technology, media & telecommunications; and white-collar crime.
- Recognition & Awards
- “Best Firm in South Korea” – Euromoney (2018)
- “Korea Deal Firm of the Year” – Thomson Reuters (2018)
- “Korea Finance Firm of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer (2018)
- “Korea TMT Firm of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer (2019)
- “Labour and Employment Law Firm of the Year” – Thomson Reuters (2018)
- “Competition Lawyer of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer, Asia Legal Awards (2017)
- “Behavioural Matter of the Year (Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa)” – Global Competition Review (2017)
- “Transfer Pricing firm of the Year” – Euromoney ITR Asia Tax Awards (2016)
- “Korea Patent Firm of the Year” – Asia IP Awards (2018)
- “Korea Trademark Contentious Firm of the Year Award 2019” – MIP (2019)
- Tier 1 in all or a majority of practice areas by Asia Pacific Legal 500, IFLR 1000, Asialaw Profiles and Chambers Asia
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KFTC Enhances the Predictability and Clarity of Decisions but Potentially Increase the Overall Administrative Fine Levels
Facing continued criticisms that the existing rules allowed overly broad discretion to the Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC”) in setting the amount of administrative fine, the KFTC amended the Notification on Detailed Standards for Imposition of Administrative Fine (the “Notification”). The amendments (the “Amendments”) were passed by the KFTC’s full Committee of Commissioners on December 21, 2016, and came into effect on December 30, 2016.
Greater Reforms for Promoting Work-Life Balance – Changes to the Gender Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance Support Act
Starting 1 October 2019, employees would benefit from significant changes to the Gender Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance Support Act (“GEEA”), particularly concerning paternity leave and workhours reduction for childcare and family care. These changes are also expected to have material implications for employers with regard to general compliance obligations and require employers to review their practices in engaging employees and other workforce flexibility measures to adapt to the legislative changes. We have summarized the notable changes as follows.
First- Ever Decision by the Supreme Court of Korea to Find Copyright Infringement in the Selection, Arrangement or Combination of Game Elements
Korean Financial Supervisory Service Mandating Disclosure of Transaction Documents When Filing Repor
Korean Financial Supervisory Service Mandating Disclosure of Transaction Documents When Filing Report on Material Facts
In light of the recent amendment to the internal policies of the Financial Supervisory Service of Korea (FSS), companies that file a “Report on Material Facts” on or after April 29, 2019, will also be required, as a matter of principle, to disclose the underlying transaction documents in full.
Successful Challenges to Korean Health Insurance Regulator’s 13-Year Old System of Automatic Reduction of Original Drug Price
The Seoul Administrative Court and the Seoul High Court issued orders suspending the automatic reduction of the price of the original drug “A” upon generic entry claiming patent non-infringement and the automatic reduction of the price of the original drug “B” upon generic entry claiming patent invalidity, respectively. The automatic price reduction of the original drug B has been continuously suspended since the Administrative Commission’s suspension order issued in April 2018.
On February 21, 2019, the Supreme Court of Korea issued an en banc decision overruling its prior precedents on the issue of whether a licensee who is continuing to make royalty payments under an existing license agreement nevertheless has standing to challenge the validity of the licensed patent. In short, the Korean Supreme Court held that absent special circumstance, a patent licensee is an “interested party” eligible for challenging the validity of a licensed patent, despite the lack of any threat or potential threat posed by the patent holder against the licensee’s right to use the patented invention. (Supreme Court En Banc Decision No. 2017Hu2819).
The Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC”) recently amended its Guidelines for Merger Review (the ”Guidelines”), which took effect from February 27, 2019. The Guidelines now provide for particular issues relating to “innovation markets” and “big data” that will be considered during the KFTC’s review of mergers within R&D-intensive (i.e. innovative) industries.
Korea strengthens protection against IP infringement and unfair competition (Amendment of the Patent
Korea strengthens protection against IP infringement and unfair competition (Amendment of the Patent Act and the Unfair Competition Prevention Act)
On December 7, 2018 the Korea National Assembly approved a bill to amend the Patent Act and the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (“UCPA”). Highlights of the proposed amendments include stronger penalties for patent infringements and further relaxation of the burden of proof for patent holders. The amendments are to be effective on July 9, 2019.
Korean TR, Finally and Officially Coming Soon
Korea is finally adopting a trade repository (“TR”), which is an infrastructure that collects and stores data related to over-the-counter (“OTC”) derivatives transactions. The Financial Services Commission (“FSC”) has decided to implement the TR system by making amendments to the Regulations on Financial Investment Business (which is aligned with Article 166-2(2) of the FSCMA), instead of making amendments to the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act (“FSCMA”) or its Enforcement Decree, and has approved the amendment as of January 31, 2019. As a result, the TR is expected to be activated in July, 2020 as scheduled. Korea is introducing the TR system in order to improve transparency and systematic risk management in its OTC derivatives market as part of its effort to adhere to the G20 accord.
Key Changes to Korean Labor Standards Act in 2019
In 2018, Korea experienced major reforms to the employment laws including, but not limited to, the Labor Standards Act. For example, many employers scrambled – many are still struggling – to adjust their work hour structures to comply with the new 52-hour work hour limit. In 2019, legislative reforms and amendments proposed in 2018 have taken effect. For your information, we have highlighted two major changes in the employment law landscape for 2019.
Direction of Financial Regulatory Environment of Korea in 2019: Legislation Supporting Financial Inn
Direction of Financial Regulatory Environment of Korea in 2019: Legislation Supporting Financial Innovation and Reform of Supervisory System
For 2019, it is expected that the financial regulatory/legislative environment will see further developments along two key tracks, with one track consisting of the enactment of special laws favoring new business initiatives aimed at promoting innovation in the financial business sector, and the other track consisting of legislative activity aimed at reforming and improving the existing financial supervisory system to promote greater efficiency and integration. The following specific examples of legislation are representative of the overall direction planned for the financial regulatory environment in the year ahead.
Korean Financial Regulators Advance Legislation to Introduce Regulatory Sandbox to Spark FinTech
The 2018 year in review in Korea was notable for the sluggish overall economy, uncertainty surrounding the geo-politics and impact on Korea due to the global trade wars, on-going concerns related to the lack of jobs and unemployment, increased taxes and burdens for businesses and families, and no meaningful improvement or clarity in the current situation for 2019. In response, the Korean National Assembly passed a legislation called the Financial Innovation Support Act (the “FinISA”) on December 7, 2018 to spark the financial services industry in conjunction with FinTech products and services. The FinISA, which will soon take effect in March 2019, is intended to lay the legal foundation to introduce a regulatory sandbox for innovative financial services, where FinTech firms test their new products and services without certain regulatory oversight pursuant to exemptions for a limited period of time (“Sandbox”). As the FinISA exempts or defers application of existing finance-related regulations for new financial technology, products or services with the purpose of fostering the creation of innovative and new financial products and services, it will also support the stabilization of such services in the financial services market at the end of the testing period and is expected that the FinISA will support a revitalization of the FinTech industry which experienced sluggish growth in recent times. In particular, as companies and investors become more interested in security tokens and Security Token Offerings (“STO”) which are regulated by the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act (the “FSCMA”), there have been on-going discussions and debates as to whether the FinISA could lead to a breakthrough in the crypto-asset industry based on blockchain technology. Crypto assets encompasses those assets which utilize blockchain technology where the asset is digitalized by utilization of cryptography, peer-to-peer networks and a public ledger of verified transactions resulting in a ‘units’ of such a crypto asset without any involvement by middle-persons or brokers (e.g., cryptocurrency.
Flying Under the Radar: Companies Must Increase Awareness of the Potentially Dormant and Disruptive Changes to the Minimum Wage in Korea
Korea has experienced unprecedented yearly increases to the statutory minimum wage since 2017 in addition to changes in the applicable legislation. While companies are aware of the more patent impacts of the recent major changes to the Labor Standards Act and have initiated proactive measures to ensure legal compliance, companies often overlook the impacts of the significant changes to the statutory minimum wages and associated legislation until it is too late. And as an employer may face criminal sanctions (i.e., imprisonment up to 2 years or criminal fine not exceeding KRW 20 million) for unpaid wages, companies must be aware of the changing legislation related to the statutory minimum wage and – as with changes to the Labor Standards Act – take proactive measures to ensure continued legal compliance.
New Legislation: Amendment to the Enforcement Decree of the Act on External Audit of Stock CompaniesNew Legislation: Amendment to the Enforcement Decree of the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies
The amendment to the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies (the “Act”) and the enforcement decree thereof (the “Enforcement Decree”), whose key feature pertains to the external audit and disclosure requirements for limited liability companies, became effective as of November 1, 2018. Certain provisions relating to the category of targets of external audits will become effective with respect to the fiscal years that commence on or after November 1, 2019. Therefore, for the majority of companies whose fiscal years begin on January 1 and ends on December 31 of each year, the revised category will become effective with respect to the fiscal year that begins on January 1, 2020.
On July 30, 2018, the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance (“MOEF”) announced the proposed tax law changes/amendments for 2019 and beyond (“Proposals”). The Proposals are expected to be reviewed and finalized by the Korean National Assembly in December 2018.
Some key Proposals that should be of great interest to private equity funds and other investors relate to the Korean taxation of a foreign collective investment vehicle, referred to as an Overseas Investment Vehicle (“OIV”) in the Korean tax law. An OIV is broadly defined as an overseas vehicle that raises funds through an investment offering, manages investment assets, derives value from the acquisition and disposition of such assets, and distributes such derived value to its investors. Consequently, partnerships, limited liability companies and other types of collective investment vehicles (e.g., trusts) would likely be included in the definition of OIV.
The key provisions of the Proposals in relation to an OIV that will impact tax planning for foreign funds are summarized below.
Korea’s competition authority, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC, has announced a proposal to expand its existing enforcement authority to the courts and prosecutors through a full-scale reform of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act, Korea’s primary competition statute. If all proposed reforms are passed by the National Assembly as currently drafted, the impact on the Korean economy and antitrust enforcement will require companies doing business in Korea to tighten their risk management and compliance measures, as the scope and penalties of Korean antitrust enforcement would be broadened.
From a purely employer’s perspective, foreign companies operating in Korea are often frustrated (or at times, even amazed) at some of the protections provided to employees under the Korean employment laws. A few of the most difficult legal requirements include the strict just-cause requirement for termination, the durational limits on the use of fixed-term (contract) employees, the statutory severance obligation, and the statutory allowances for overtime, night-time, and holiday works. In light of such requirements and to minimize the burden of potential employer liabilities, many foreign companies may naturally wonder: How can we structure our workforce so that we can preserve an increased degree of flexibility when managing our personnel?
Used mileage points interpreted as sales allowance deductible from tax base
If a business operates a customer loyalty program together with other business, in which the amount of mileage points granted for the customers’ primary transaction is deducted from the purchase price of the customers’ secondary transaction and those customers only have to pay the remaining price, the amount deducted from the purchase price during the secondary transaction should not be additionally included as the value of supply(i.e. should not be subject to VAT) of the secondary transaction(Summary of Supreme Court 2015 du 58959, 2016. 08. 26.).
Korea strengthens protection of national core technology and industrial technology (Amendment of the Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology Act)On August 20, 2019, an amendment of the Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology Act (hereinafter “PITA”) was passed and shall come into effect on February 21, 2020. The new amendment is likely to affect technology companies as the scope of national core technology and industrial technology under PITA is broadly defined by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE).
Korean Tax Law Adopts New Simplified Transfer Pricing Rules relating to Low Value-adding Intra-group ServicesWith the recent pre-announcement of a draft amendment to the Enforcement Decree of the International Tax Coordination Law (“EDITCL”), Korean tax law is expected to adopt simplified transfer pricing requirements relating to “low value-adding intra-group services”, as laid out in Action 10 of the OECD BEPS Report.
- In line with the aforementioned amendments to the PIPA, the Amendments also introduce the concepts of “pseudonymized information”, “pseudonymization”, and “anonymization”. Please refer to our newsletter dated January 14, 2020 (“Major Amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act Passed by National Assembly”) for more information on these concepts.
- The Amendments permit credit information handlers to provide personal credit information to third parties without the consent of personal credit information subjects to the extent such provision is not inconsistent with the original purpose of collection after considering factors such as the circumstances surrounding the collection of personal credit information, the potential impact to personal credit information subjects, and whether necessary safeguards have been implemented to ensure the security of personal credit information.
- The Amendments breakdown CBs into subcategories (whereas under the current Credit Information Act, CBs are defined rather broadly without such distinction) such as “CBs for individuals,” “CBs for sole proprietorships,” and “CBs for corporations” while relaxing regulatory entry barriers for each subcategory. In addition, CBs are no longer prohibited from engaging in other types of commercial enterprise so long as there is no risk of harming credit information subjects or undermining the soundness of credit transactions due to such commercial endeavors.
- The concept of MyData services will be introduced which will allow individuals to, among other things, conduct integrated searches of their own credit information as well as carry out credit and asset self-management.
- The consent system will be streamlined (simplified and visualized) to enable credit information subjects to provide their “informed consent” and a rating system will be introduced for the use of information, such that different ratings will be assigned to the use of information depending on the risk(s) and benefit(s) associated with such use so that credit information subjects can make informed decisions when providing their consent (taking effect within 1 year from the promulgation date of the Amendments).
- Credit information subjects will be granted the right to challenge (i.e., request explanations and raise objections) decisions based on profiling (i.e., automated processing of data to evaluate certain things about an individual).
- Credit information subjects will be granted the right to request financial companies and public institutions to transmit their personal credit information (i.e., right to data portability of personal credit information) to other financial companies (taking effect within 1 year from the promulgation date of the Amendments).
- The maximum amount of punitive damages that may be imposed on financial companies and other credit information handlers in connection with the leakage of personal credit information has been increased to 5 times (from the current 3 times) the amount of proven damages.
- With the introduction of the concepts of pseudonymized information and anonymized information, companies are advised to review the scope of data processing that will be permitted under the amended Credit Information Act without the need to obtain consent as well as the methods to utilize pseudonymized information, safeguards to prevent the combination of data, and ex post facto control measures.
- In light of the expected changes in the legal framework for the regulation of CBs, companies planning to expand into the CB business are advised to carefully consider the conditions for entry into this business segment, potential synergies with their existing business, and growth opportunities as well as constraining factors.
- With the introduction of MyData services, the Amendments will serve to minimize entry barriers for Fintech companies. Accordingly, companies planning to provide MyData services are advised to begin preparations in advance to obtain necessary licenses and approvals.
- Companies are advised to pay special attention to the changes to the legal provisions governing consent and the newly created rights that will be granted to credit information subjects under the amended Credit Information Act. In particular, financial regulatory authorities are expected to establish and announce corresponding amendments to consent forms and other detailed measures prior to the effective date of the amended Credit Information Act and thus, companies are advised to continue monitoring related developments on this front.
- Given that the Financial Services Commission has announced its intention to hold future discussions to canvass public opinion for corresponding amendments to the implementing rules (e.g., the Enforcement Decree of the Credit Information Act) of the Credit Information Act, companies are advised to closely monitor the amendment process and to provide their input as necessary to promote their business interests.
- Companies are also advised to closely review the amendments to the PIPA and the Network Act that were passed by the National Assembly along with the Amendments, and make the necessary preparations to their practices in light of the changes that are expected to occur once these amendments take effect.
New Supreme Court Decision Constrains Patentee’s Strategic Use of Correction Petition in Pending Patent CaseOn January 22, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled, en banc, that if a petition to correct a patent specification or drawings is granted after the conclusion of the appellate phase of a patent invalidation action, the decision granting such petition cannot be a ground for retrial under Article 451, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 8 of the Civil Procedure Act. In doing so, the Court reversed all prior Supreme Court decisions that remanded the case for a retrial based on the same ground (Supreme Court En Banc Decision No. 2016Hu2522).
Implementation of Pre-approval System for Cross-border M&A for Companies with National Core TechnologyThe Act on Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology (the “Act”) provides for the protection of national core technologies held by Korean companies, research institutes, professional institutions and universities (each a “Protected Entity”) and prevention of their leakage. The Act was revised as of February 21, 2020 and the revised Act was went into effect on the same day. The revised Act introduces hurdles for any foreign investor seeking to obtain control over a Protected Entity (whether through a direct investment, merger or joint venture) (“Triggering Transaction”) by introducing new pre-approval and pre-notification requirements. For a Protected Entity that holds any national core technology developed with national R&D funding, the pre-approval requirement applies, which in principle prohibits any Triggering Transaction and provides for limited exceptions. For a Protected Entity that holds any national core technology developed without national R&D funding, the pre-notification requirement applies, which in principle allows any Triggering Transaction with exceptional cases for blocking it. Any foreign investor or company seeking to obtain control over a Korean company with a strong technology portfolio would need to diligence on whether any such technology is classified as a national core technology and, if so, whether it was developed with national R&D funding and assess whether any exception may be applicable.
Amended Act on Reporting and Using Specified Financial Transaction Information Now Governs Virtual AssetsThe amendment to the Act on Reporting and Using Specified Financial Transaction Information (hereinafter, the “Specified Financial Information Act”), which defines cryptocurrency as a “virtual asset” and focuses on a reporting system for cryptocurrency exchanges, was ratified in the National Assembly’s plenary session on March 5, 2020.
Amendments to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act to Strengthen Administrative & Criminal Sanctions for Data Manipulation Related to Applications for Regulatory ApprovalsOn April 7, 2020, an amendment to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (the ‘PAA’) came into effect to provide a statutory basis for administrative and criminal sanctions to be enforced against companies that have obtained regulatory approval for a drug product through deceitful or otherwise improper means.
South Korea: Mergers & Acquisitions
Published: March 2020
Authors: Ki Wook Kang Kyung Chun Kim Won Joon Jang
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Mergers & Acquisitions laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Employment & Labour Law
Published: March 2020
Authors: Sang-Hoon Lee Jae-Hoon Choi William Kim
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Employment & Labour Law laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Patent Litigation
Published: December 2019
Authors: Hui Jin Yang Tae Hyung Kim Hayoun Chun Esther Inhae Chung
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Patent Litigation laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
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