Jail time for leaking industrial secrets over memory chips and displays will be lengthened and more cases of industrial espionage will face court, according to a statement made by South Korea’s technology and industry ministry on Monday (28 August). 

Korea already protects industrial and trade secrets under the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act. According to the act, a trade secret is defined as information about a company’s technical, sales or production methods which is “not known publicly” and “has independent economic value”. 

Jail time for industrial espionage can already be up to five years in South Korea, but according to the technology ministry’s statement, the difficulty in proving the suspect’s intent to spy has resulted in over 54% of cases resulting in suspended sentences. This allows the suspected offender to avoid immediate prison time so long as they are compliant with court requirements meant to inhibit their chances of reoffending. 

In a recent state visit to Entegris Korea, Korea’s Vice Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Youngjin Jang emphasised the importance of Korea’s local technology industry. 

“The high-tech industry is a major pillar of Korea’s economy and national security asset,” Jang explained, “the government, capital area and local regions must all work as one team to nurture the high-tech industry.” 

Although South Korea is considered by GlobalData analytics to be a leader in the technology sector, tightened US sanctions against Chinese technology investment may lead to an increase in industrial espionage. 

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Speaking earlier this year (May 2023) to The Financial Times, South Korea’s previous trade minister in 2021 Yeo Han-Koo explained that these US controls against China have led Chinese companies to “escalate their charm offensive towards Korean engineers and researchers, using both legal and illegal means.” 

Just this month (August 2023), the US government banned all investment towards Chinese technology. As tensions between the US and China heat up, South Korea’s technology industry could get caught between the countries. 

Updated sentencing legislation is expected to be released next year.