To enjoy cooked rice, you can just slightly peel off the seal of Hetbahn and heat it up in a microwave for 2 minutes, and you’re done. Dozens of technologies are put into this convenient product, technologies developed by the time and effort of countless people, such as manufacturing facilities, processes, and packaging. Intellectual property (IP) is the tool to legally protect these technologies. CJ Cheiljedang has over 10,000 patents, 2,300 of which are on food products. Let’s meet Kim Eun-hye, who develops IP to protect the independent, original technologies of CJ Cheiljedang.
The technologies in food are not just about recipes!
▲ Kim Eun-hye joined the IP Development Team at CJ Cheiljedang in 2017
Q. What kind of legal support is provided by the IP Development Team in each product development process?
We are applying for and managing patents to protect our company’s technologies. Before we release a product, we first review whether there are any patent-related issues involving competitors and provide support so that the product can be released. As a long-term task, we look into whether there is no infringement of our competitors’ patents from the start, and whether the patent can be applied as an independent and original technology. If we must accelerate the research, we conduct an overall review right before release.
Q. What are some distinct characteristics of food IP?
To apply for a patent, we must convince the examiners that the technology is an independent and original technology that requires legal protection. While unfamiliar terms are used in other fields, the food industry uses many terms that are used on a daily basis, making the technology sound less novel or original compared to other fields. That’s why we have some difficulties in convincing them that our technology must be legally protected. And yet this makes us feel more rewarded when we succeed.
Q. What do you consider important when applying for a patent?
We first obtain patents for products that are likely to be developed by competitors as well. But we strategically choose not to apply for a patent for things we don’t necessarily have to disclose. The intent of applying for a patent is to obtain an exclusive right in return for disclosing our technology and know-how, so we weigh the pros and cons from disclosing this before we decide to apply. That’s why we don’t just apply for many patents.
Following the local rules of IP overseas?
▲ Must understand newly established laws or new technologies!
Q. There are over 100 patents (including overseas) applied to just Hetbahn alone. To what extent are they protected as IP?
Hetbahn involves various patents that are applied, such as rice variety, manufacturing method and facilities, packaging, etc. For just packaging alone, patents are registered for each and every detail such as the container molding device and method. Recently, the packaging department is developing an eco-friendly package, for which we are providing IP support.
Q. Not only Hetbahn but also products like Mandu (dumplings) and Ssamjang (seasoned soybean paste) are popular overseas. How do you develop and manage IP in overseas markets?
For patents overseas, we follow the local laws and examination criteria. That’s why we must understand their laws. And since the registration rate varies also depending on the subjective decision of the examiners, we try to set the scope of rights according to the local examination trend. We must also constantly review and analyze relevant laws and examination criteria since IP is related to advanced technology.
Setting the goal to develop IP so that a single patent can protect multiple technologies
▲ Kim Eun-hye’s goal is to protect intellectual property by applying for more powerful patents.
Q. Is there a way to convince examiners for patent application?
Basically, the examiners closely analyze and review the technology and legal matters, but for ultimate patent registration, the subjective decision of the examiners is partially involved. We must convince them on how different and excellent our technology is compared to the existing ones, so we sometimes search for experimental data or literature and submit them for reference. We even took a product made by our competitor for comparison.
Q. When were you most proud in this current career of yours?
It’s not easy to obtain the patent for manufacturing process among technologies related to HMR products. But recently we are having patents registered related to HMR products. I’m even more proud of that since I achieved this right after I joined the company in 2017.
Q. What are your future plans?
While I have since been focused on applying for many patents to protect the technologies we have, now I am focusing on winning recognition for our independent and original technology even if I apply for just a single patent so that it cannot be easily infringed. In the future, I want to minimize the disclosure of our internal technologies while developing a patent that can outdo all our competitors.
Kim claims that she must keep on studying so that she can understand everything whenever new products are developed, and the laws are amended. Sometimes, she feels overwhelmed with all the efforts she must make, but what drives her to go on? “I can’t risk others taking away the technologies that so many people have worked so hard on,” Kim replied.