Judged by the number of registered patents, Korea is a major force, but the atmosphere is quite different on the frontlines, where Apple, Microsoft, Philips and other global IT companies have launched a patent war against their Korean rivals.

They have started using patent and copyright law to protect their smartphones and LED technologies and to pressure Korean IT firms where the smartphone is the main battleground. Microsoft is adapting its Windows operating system for smartphone use. Now Apple is suing Samsung for copying in its Galaxy phone the iPhone’s touch-screen technology. Microsoft wants Samsung to pay US$10 per phone in royalties for using its patented technology. That amounts to W500 billion (US$1=W1,058) a year.

The reason is the Android operating system used by Samsung and HTC and developed by Google. Apple and Microsoft claim Android uses a large portion of their own OS, and U.S. software developer Oracle claims Android illegally uses its own Java programs. LG is also expected to face a lawsuit soon since its smartphones run on Android.

U.S. companies virtually control the global market for operating systems, which determine the success or failure of a smartphone. Korean companies have plenty of patents for manufacturing technology, but very few for software. If they lose the lawsuits against U.S. players, they will have to pay hefty royalties to Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and other companies.

The field of LED lighting is another battlefield, Leading European lighting equipment makers Osram and Philips say Samsung, LG and Seoul Semiconductor infringed on their patents and have filed lawsuits against the Korean companies.