Jacob Schindler

Kwang-Jun Kim, the CEO of Korea’s sovereign patent fund (SPF) operator Intellectual Discovery (ID), yesterday submitted his resignation, he has confirmed to IAM. Kim says that he had fundamental differences of opinion with the fund’s public sector backers over the level of financial support ID should receive from the government as well as the future direction of the company. This latest high-level departure is only the latest indicator of uncertainty over the future of the SPF model.

Kim joined Intellectual Discovery in January 2015 as CEO. He previously served as vice president of the IP centre at Samsung Electronics, and as head of IP and general counsel at Samsung Display. In an article about the SPF sector which appears in the current issue of IAM, he said that he feels many of ID’s strategic goals have been accomplished, but that “it will take another couple of years before we can say for sure that our original objectives have been met”.

Kim has insisted that the future of ID and other SPFs is in the private sector:  “The trend here is that the sovereign patent fund will lose its sovereign status,” Kim said, adding that ID was looking to secure additional investment from the private sector and exploring options including joint ventures and an IPO. Japan’s sovereign patent fund operator, IP Bridge, has also suggested that it is gradually transitioning toward independence from its public-private backer, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, saying this has been a part of its plans all along.

Today, Kim told IAM that ID faced a “budget crisis” because it is getting far less financial support from the government than it had in previous years. The organisation’s budget dropped off precipitously beginning in late 2014, he claimed, when responsibility for ID was transferred from Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), and has continued to be cut since then. Operating under the aegis of the IP office also restricted the opportunities his team of 15 could pursue, Kim added.

There had been rumblings of potential changes at the top in recent weeks, including the abrupt departure of another senior executive. ID’s executive director and head of IP business, Dongsuk Bae, left the company on October 6th, according to an email notice sent by the company to journalists. Bae, a former licensing executive at LG Electronics, had been with the fund operator since February 2014, working on monetisation projects and overseeing subsidiaries Idea Bridge and ID Ventures. A private-sector industry observer told IAM that there is a general expectation that Bae might now return to ID.

2016 has been an interesting year for the SPF sector. In the spring, China’s best known experiment with government-led IP aggregation, Zhigu, was absorbed into smartphone maker Xiaomi’s corporate IP team. In June, two founding executives of France Brevets, Jean-Charles Hourcade and Pascal Asselot moved on, and this blog has raised questions about where the French fund’s focus lies. It is uncertain whether the Intellectual Discovery will remain on a trajectory toward privatisation, but the big question now is who will take charge of the six-year-old fund and its 3,800 patents.