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.