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S. Korea defends intellectual property rights of its food

All News 16:59 July 28, 2009

By Lee Joon-seung

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea launched a new Web site Tuesday to defend the intellectual property rights of its traditional foods.

Set up by the state-run Korea Food Research Institute (KFRI), www.tradifood.net is aimed at making sure patents are not given out for traditional Korean food processing techniques, the think-tank said.

"The site currently has detailed documents and research papers on 3,500 traditional foods that can be accessed by users," said Lee Moo-ha, head of the institute.

Lee said the site is the first resource of its kind, and provides historical data on the origin of food, recipes and their commercial applications. All the information meets documentation standards set by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), he added.

"Since many countries including South Korea are members of the U.N. agency, the site can prevent foreign companies from issuing patents by mistake," he said.

He stressed that once WIPO reviews and recognizes the KFRI site as following internationally acceptable rules, it will start to cross-reference all future patent requests to make certain that applications do not violate food processing methods used in Korean cuisine.

Lee said that this is important, citing Swiss food giant Nestle's winning of patent rights in 1983 based on the processing methods for kimchi.

Kimchi, a spicy fermented side dish eaten with almost every Korean meal, was recognized as a distinct dish by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (COCEX) in 2001.

The commission, created in 1962 by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, is tasked with developing food standards.

Other experts said that in addition to preventing foreign companies from using traditional food processing methods, the site can help Seoul win more recognition from both CODEX and WIPO down the road.

They said the site could help South Korea win international acknowledgment for such foods as "samgyetang" and "topokki."

Samgyetang is a soup made with chicken, rice, ginseng and dates and other herbs, while topokki is a spicy snack made up of tube-shaped rice cakes and chili sauce.

KFRI said the site took one year to build at a cost of 330 million won (US$265,000). Besides origin of traditional food and recipes, the site contains information on all traditional food products sold on the market and their nutritional value.

The site is currently available only in Korean but will be launched in a number of different languages, including English, in 2010-2011.


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