Companies Request Special Permission From Feds To Register Intellectual Property In North Korea

from the is-that-really-a-wise-use-of-your-time? dept

The folks over at NPR’s Planet Money recently did a fun podcast discussing requests by US companies for permission to route around the sanctions imposed by the US government on North Korea in order to do business with North Korea. This came about after Planet Money got back a bunch of documents from a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request revealing the letters that various companies sent to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, basically begging for exceptions to the sanctions. The podcast mostly focused on the “novelty” items — the guy who wanted to buy a single pair of North Korean jeans for his wife, the company that wanted to import North Korean beer, the stamp trading company that wants North Korean postage stamps because they’re so rare, etc. But at the end of the podcast, they mention that among the stuff they didn’t cover, were requests having to do with… intellectual property.

That got me interested, and so I went through the whole file and found that, indeed, there were a few requests from companies and lawyers who talked about the need to “protect their intellectual property” in basically every single country possible, so they wanted to be able to do so in North Korea as well. Leading the pack is Intel, who basically asks permission to secure its famed trademark in North Korea.

Intel respectfully requests that pursuant to 31 CFR Parts 50! and 510, OFAC provide a Specific License to Executive Order l35?O’ Authorizing Intel Corporation and its appointed agents including Novak Druce Quigg LLP, to engage in all transactions to pursue, obtain, and maintain protection for Intel’s trademarks and trademark rights in North Korea, and to remit funds to the Government of North Korea and other persons in North Korea in connection therewith, so long as such persons are not on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN)

All I can think is: what an incredible waste of time and money. It’s not as if securing a trademark in North Korea means anything. This just seems to be a law firm trying to check off boxes in every single country possible, and being able to bill extra hours back to Intel. First of all, why does Intel care about protecting its trademarks in North Korea when it can’t sell its chips into North Korea in the first place?

Of course, the only story we’ve had in the past about North Korea and intellectual property was back last year when WIPO got into some serious trouble for running a highly questionable program, defying UN sanctions in order to ship computers to North Korea, because some really clueless individuals at WIPO were sure that North Korea would use those computers to set up a database of worldwide patents to make sure that they weren’t infringing on things (no, seriously) and didn’t even think that the North Korean government might want those computers for other purposes (and not give a damn about what patents anyone held anywhere in the world). Somehow, I doubt that trademark protection is a major issue in North Korea either.

There’s another, similar, request from big time law firm Kirkland & Ellis for a redacted client which goes even further — claiming they’re looking to protect “patents, trademarks and/or copyrights” in North Korea. Because North Korea is going to respect any of those? Really? I particularly love this line of reasoning:

In view of these general licenses and the general favorable policy toward authorizing IP protection-related activities they indicate, as well as OFAC’s general favorable policy toward authorizing many legal services and the fact that protection of intellectual property rights of US companies is consistent with important US economic interests KTS requests OFAC’s expedited approval of this request. Undue delay in providing such authorization could result in loss of important IP protection and related negative consequences…

Wait, seriously? If they can’t get their trademarks, patents and copyrights in North Korea — a country that we can’t otherwise do any business with and who doesn’t care at all about our trademarks, patents and copyrights — there will be a “loss of protection”? No, there won’t be any protection, because that doesn’t happen in North Korea and it doesn’t matter in the first place.

A similar argument is made by another law firm, Hogan Lovells:

Our U.S. and global clients wish to maintain their intellectual property protection in all countries including, as needed, sanctioned countries such as North Korea.

Later, they claim:

We are not aware of a policy reason to prohibit companies from fully protecting their intellectual property in North Korea…

Well, perhaps because it’s entirely pointless and a complete waste of time, effort and money?

It really seems like this is the kind of thing that happens when you come at the world with a mindset that the legal “thing” — a patent, a trademark or a copyright — is the most important part of any invention, product or content, rather than the wider ecosystem and market that you’re dealing with.

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Comments on “Companies Request Special Permission From Feds To Register Intellectual Property In North Korea”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i wonder if a reason for denying the permission here, if it is denied, could be that the USA is afraid of any spying that may happen by N.Korea on the USA, it’s companies and people? i think if that happened and, of course, that i wanted permission to do something with N.Korea in the first place, i would have to answer that

‘as i am being spied on 24/7 by my own government, it surely cant make much difference if i am also being spied on by another government, can it?’

the response then could be interesting.

Ed C. says:

I agree Mike, this is nothing more than another play by law firms to use the “IP protection” racket to game more billable hours. What I don’t get is how can corporate execs keep falling for the same con over and over again? Granted some are dumber than a mud brick, but surely someone up there has the intelligence to figure the ROI on this by now.

*sigh* some days I just have no hope for humanity…

That One Guy (profile) says:


Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a patent basically a document telling you how to make something or the process to do so? So, if they want to apply for patents in NK, wouldn’t they be directly handing over the tech they are currently prohibited from shipping in otherwise by filing patents there?

Even worse in fact, is that if they were just selling products to NK then NK would have to reverse engineer thems to find out how they were made, whereas with a patent, it would tell them directly.

New Mexico Mark says:

Sounds familiar

I think I’ve seen the kind of “reasoning” these lawyers present for IP protections in N. Korea in a book somewhere. Now where was that… hmmmm….. oh yeah!

?Statistics show that civilizations will rise again. There will once again be lemon soaked paper napkins. Until that time, there will be a short delay. Please return to your seats.?

Bryan (profile) says:

We are not aware of a policy reason to prohibit companies from fully protecting their intellectual property in North Korea…

Well, perhaps because it’s entirely pointless and a complete waste of time, effort and money?

I thought that doing things that are entirely pointless and a complete waste of time, effort and money is a major policy goal of the United States Government. . .

mattshow (profile) says:

Trademark law serves no purpose in North Korea

The purpose of a trademark is to identify the source of a product, allowing consumers to decide for themselves whether to purchase a product based on their past experience with products from that source.

Since all consumer products in North Korea were invented by Kim Il-Sung and thus are of the highest qualify and are the envy of citizens of corrupt Western governments around the world, who have only access to cheap knockoffs of the technological marvels created by the Eternal and Heavenly Leader, there is no need for trademark law in North Korea.

Karl (profile) says:

Go ahead

Even though nobody is allowed to sell any products in North Korea, I think the government should go ahead and let everyone get IP protection there.

As evidence shows, excessive IP protection leads to significant economic slowdown. Especially when the IP holders don’t actually have products on the market.

North Korea’s economy will crumble in no time!

Mike S. says:

Intel IP

So much knee-jerk cluelessness being posted here. I’m not a lawyer, so this is not a defense of law firms. Rather, this is a defense of corporate responsibility. The lifeblood of a corporation is its IP. It has an obligation to its shareholders and its employees to protect its assets as fully and completely as possible. When you build a dam to protect a village, do you leave any holes in it? Of course not. It only takes a small hole to weaken the whole dam. Good business practice in successful companies is to minimize or eliminate risk, and to preserve its legal rights. The money spent on IP protection is a necessary corporate obligation to the people who depend on the company. If you work at Intel or own its stock, do you want the company to protect your job or your investment?

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