Alex Jensen talks to two passionate business executives who have experienced multiple cultures have diverse backgrounds, but now called Korea home. Firstly he talks with Ben Morris CEO of WeCrest, an AI-based company helping IP attorneys worldwide connect with their customers at exactly the right moment. They discuss how IP is a weapon in business and among nations. Then Alex talks with Chea Srun, CEO of XQuant. Despite a very successful career as a trader, Chea is now building apps for the finance industry. A lifelong coder, Chea shares how he fused his new career with his childhood passion.
Alex then talks with Sarah Jung CMO of Argos Vision, who gives us a wonderful insight into how robot vision and robot eyes are coming closer and closer to human capabilities. Sarah also talks about how the face of Korean business is changing. As larger corporations look towards smaller, more nimble companies who can deliver solutions tailored-made.
Today’s episode is brought to you by The Four Seasons Seoul, elegance in the heart of Seoul.
Alex Talks with Ben Morris about IP protection and marketing, and then discusses fintech with Chea Srun
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen, and it’s already Wednesday, October 6, time goes fast when you’re having fun or just when it’s a four-day week, and we’ve got another one coming up on the podcast today though we have two successful business executives who have experienced multiple cultures have diverse backgrounds, but now called Korea home, we’ll delve into the world of intellectual property and hear how IP is a weapon in business and among nations. Plus, how about fusing your life’s work with a childhood passion when starting a business in Korea? That hardly does it justice, you’ll have to hear from our guests for yourself. And just quickly as we embark on this Koreabizcast adventure with the KBLA we’d love it. If you could give us some feedback, get involved in our career biz cast community, or just share a great idea. Send us a message via LinkedIn, just search KBLA.
Alex Jensen: So, it may have been a tough couple of years nearly for many businesses, but South Korea recorded a surplus in the trade of intellectual property rights in the first half of this year, the first half year surplus of its kind since 2019. The $850 million surplus from January to June was a turnaround from a $1.11 billion deficit from July to December last year. All those dollar amounts in us all to get a better understanding of IP and the surrounding industry. Let’s connect with Ben Morris, the CEO and founder of we crest, a company that harnesses the power of data, specifically trademark refusal data to help its clients. Thanks for your time, Ben.
Alex Jensen: Really good to have you with us. I know that we’ve spoken about this probably even before the podcast was born. Can you give us a better idea for everyone’s benefit, though, of how you fit into the intellectual property chain?
Yes, certainly. First of all, let me just say how happy I am to be on your podcast. Finally, I used to listen to your radio show every day on my commute to work. And now I’m listening to your podcast everyday on my commute to work. So it’s a real honor to be also on the podcast myself. And yeah, basically, I consider myself a fan and a friend. So I’ll start First of all, by telling you a little bit about myself. I’m originally from Berlin in Germany. My father is British, my mum is German. I after high school in Berlin, I moved to the UK to study mathematics at the University of Cambridge. I graduated and then shortly after that I moved to Korea in 2003. Once I was in Korea, sort of through a series of coincidences got into the IP industry got a job working for an IP law firm here, one of the biggest IP law firms in Korea, qualified as a trademark attorney then worked my way, my way up, eventually became a partner of a mid sized Korean IP firm. And then, about four years ago, in 2017, I started we crest. And once we crest became viable, which happened in 2020, I quit my job as an attorney. And I’ve just been focusing on the company weakest ever since. And so what is weakest is basically a result of my own experience working in the IT industry. So a big part of my job as an IP attorney, was business development, especially in the latter years when I became a little more senior in the firm’s where I was working for. and due to my background in mathematics, my approach was a data driven approach. So I see the world in numbers. So what we used to do, we used to analyze finding data, look at the filing behaviors of, of law firms and companies around the world. And then find the high value clients based on this data and then be used to contact them using digital marketing deals. So the idea behind requests was to turn this into an online platform, automated, create, basically create a platform that IP attorneys and IP law firms around the world could use. So yes, that’s, that’s requested a nutshell.
Alex Jensen: Well, it’s also a excellent summary of your background and how you reached we crest so thanks for that, Ben. But why is it so significant that South Korea has recorded this IP trade surplus I wanted to connect with you on that because of your background in IP obviously, and also use it as a launchpad for a broader discussion?
Yes, well, it’s significant because exporting IP is actually quite difficult. It’s not just a matter of creating technology and then licensing it out. I mean, that’s it sounds very easy. But if you want to license technology, you need to, for example, if you want to export technology to another country, then you first have to own the IP in that country as well. And in most cases, owning the IP for a type of technology usually means owning a patent for that technology. And the way patents work is you can’t just get a patent and then your invention or your technology is patented, all around the world, you have to register your patent, country by country. So even if you, if you have a patent in Korea, say if you want to export your technology to the US, then you first of all have to get a patent registered in the US. And that is a very costly procedure. What this means is that typically only mature companies have the means to register patents overseas, or at least to have large foreign patent filing programs. So if you look at the if you rank countries by the number of patents filed by companies within that country, then the number one country is China’s with 1.3 3 million patents filed worldwide by Chinese companies. So including those patent filings in China, but also patent filings by Chinese companies in other countries. Number two in the list is is the US with only about half a million. And number three is Japan and number four is Korea, Korea has about a quarter of a million patents filed by Korean companies worldwide. But then if you look at the outbound filings, so that’s filings by companies of a certain country, but the findings are then in other countries. Now the US is top, and Japan is number two, Germany’s number three, China’s and before and Korea is number five. And if you look at the percentages, so the percentage of foreign filings and foreign filings as a percentage of overall findings of companies of a certain country, the US and Japan, they both have around 50 45%. So among the patents filed by us and Japanese companies, 45 of them were filed overseas. for China, the number is 6%. So that’s very low. And for Korea, the number is 31%. So this this kind of reflects what I was saying about owning mature companies and speaking more broadly mature company, mature economies, being able to file big amounts of patents overseas. And that kind of fits in with that. However, if you look at the way Korea has developed 10 years ago, the number is 25% and 20 years ago was 17%. So Korea has made a lot of improvements there and Korean companies are these days finding quite a lot of patents overseas as well. So it’s not surprising to hear from you this fact that Korea has now recorded a surplus in in IP.
Alex Jensen: But it also sounds like it’s a number that covers up a deeper story of the smaller companies may be struggling to compete with their bigger counterparts. And perhaps the volume of patents does not necessarily reflect the quality of patents. would those be fair comments, then?
Yes, that is true. So it’s, you know, a patent does not eat one patent does not equal another patent. There are there are strong patterns, there are very broad patterns, there are narrow patterns, there are weak patterns. In some countries, patents aren’t even examined. I know a guy I have once had a meeting with a Dutch patent attorney. And he told me that in the Netherlands, patents are not examined. So you can simply file a patent and then it’ll be granted and that it can be challenged later on. But you can at least get it registered initially simply by filing and paying the fee. So this Dutch attorney, he told me that he registered a patent for love for his wife. So basically, he patented his love for his wife, which is it’s nonsense, right? But he was just illustrating the fact that in the Netherlands you can register anything as a patent. So yes, that’s true. These numbers. They, they aren’t that there could be some flaws in these numbers. But still as a general indicator, these numbers I think are quite significant, especially because most of these, the bulk of these patents will be filed in, you know, bigger in quotations, bigger countries or bigger markets like the US, China, Europe, Japan, Korea, Germany, etc. And in those countries that examination standard is usually quite high. But yes, the patent quality is definitely an issue, especially these days with AI patents. You know, when you look at numbers of, of AI patents or statistics about AI patterns, they can be quite misleading because you, you have to ask what is an AI patent and, and in many patents, you there’s some kind of a technology, let’s say, a technology, something for automating the lighting in a room or something. And then if in the patent specification, they write something like your and this can achieved be achieved, for example, through AI, then that’s enough to qualify that patent as an AI patent in some statistics, but it may not actually be a novel form of AI.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, I mean, we can easily imagine how many of these patents or patents, I’m saying it both ways for our audience’s sake, would be driven by tech. And that also makes us think very quickly, I think of the ongoing standoff between the US and China. Is it fair to say that intellectual property has almost been weaponized globally as a result of that?
Yes, absolutely. Not just as a result of that, I mean, I would in in general, patents are basically weapons, they are business weapons, you can use patents to protect your market share, you can use patents to drive competitors out of certain markets. You can even file patents for tech that doesn’t exist yet. And use them to block your competitors from even entering a market preemptively. Especially these days, because we’re living, we’re living in the age of tech, the role of patents as business weapons is only growing,
Alex Jensen: because I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your experience of representing Chinese firms in the past like Xiaomi and Baidu, for example, what kind of insight did that offer you?
Well, Xiaomi is a very interesting example of how difficult it is to protect your IP overseas, which is what I was talking about earlier, I started working or the firm that I was with at the time, we started working for Xiaomi in about 2016. And at that time, Xiaomi, was already one of the top three manufacturers of smartphones worldwide. I think they were number three at the time. But they weren’t in the Korean market yet. And they have hardly any patent filings. They had patents in China, but they had hardly any patents overseas. And this was already during the time when Samsung and Apple were engaging in litigation, patent litigation around the world. So patents were already it was already a fact that patents are very important in tech, and especially in the smartphone industry. But Shall we had hardly any filings, they were already a very big company, number three manufacturer worldwide. But while they were growing, they had basically neglected to build a strong patent portfolio, particularly overseas, they may have done that intentionally. In fact, I would assume that they that they did that intentionally because the company would have the means to pay lawyers and advise them etc. But I assumed that they neglected that because they wanted to focus their resources on growing as quickly as possible. So around that time, 2016, that’s when they started fighting massively around the world, because they realized you can now we’re big, we’ve made it now we have to be able to survive against companies like Samsung and Apple. And if we don’t have any patents, then they’re just going to sue us out of the market. And we’ll have no means to defend ourselves. So that’s when they started filing around the world, including in Korea. And that’s also when, when I had got the opportunity to work for Xiaomi here in Korea. That’s what one thing and so if I can just add one more thing to that. Another thing, that interesting thing that I noticed when working for Xiaomi, and it was also a couple of other Chinese tech companies that we represented at the time. This is a little bit speculative. But I noticed that it was taking a lot longer for the Korean IP office to examine the patent applications of Chinese companies. Now that could be a coincidence. But it could also I don’t want to suggest anything sinister here but it could also be Possibly, without making any accusations, it could also have been intentional that they were trying to slow down the building of the patent portfolios of big Chinese tech companies. It’s just something that I noticed.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, well, if they’re a weapon, if patents are a weapon, then it would make sense that this is the kind of Battlefield that you would be describing there. I think we can go into even more detail on China, perhaps in the future with you. And I also want to connect with you and your company on the whole issue of data driven marketing, which is potentially fascinating for many different companies, I think in different sectors. But I’d like to finish with a broader question yet, which is on week crest and its role representing clients around the world. But being based here in Seoul, I know that you have a career connection in your own family background in your wife. But from a business perspective, what are the advantages or otherwise, of doing this all from Seoul?
Well, there are some shortcomings that I mentioned before, for example, that Korean companies aren’t fighting as much overseas as other mature economies such as the US and Japan or Germany. But despite all that, Korea is very much a global leader in IP. It’s the Korean IP office is part of what’s called the IP five. The IP five is an organization consisting of the top five IP offices around the world. Those are the Chinese IP administration, the European Patent Office, the US Patent and Trademark Office, the Japanese Patent Office and the Korean Intellectual Property Office. So those it’s kind of like the UN Security Council of IP. And they get together and discuss harmonizing IP regulations and discuss and also implement ways to make it easier to file patents in different countries etc. So, Korea is already recognized as one of the top five IP countries in the world. It’s got a very advanced IP system. What does that mean? That means for example, that Korea has very good very highly qualified examiners patent examiner’s so you need to in order to examine patents relating to high tech you have to have examiners to actually understand that technology. And Korea has a good reputation for having a very high level of patent examiner’s patent just to give you an idea of how smart these patent examiner’s are, or are or can be. Albert Einstein was a patent examiner back in the day, when he actually when he discovered the or formulated the theory of special relativity at the time, he was a patent examiner at the Swiss Patent Office. But I’m going off on a tangent here. Another example of how good Korea or how highly recognized Korea is in the IP world is that the United Arab Emirates A while ago, they hired the Korean IP office heipo to set up their patent examination system. And so the first of all the IT infrastructure so like the online filing system, and IP management system, but also they hired a bunch of examiners, Korean examiners to I’m not sure I believe it is to actually conduct the examinations themselves. But if not that, then it was to, to train the local examiners. But I believe they’re actually examining the UAE patents themselves. The Korean examiners are examined, examining them. And I actually, a couple weeks ago, I had a meeting with a patent attorney from the UAE. And I asked him about this asset, if they’re satisfied, he said, yes, we’re very satisfied had the great examiners. Great job. So also, just to clarify the why this high examination standard is important. It basically means if if there is a high examination standard, then usually what that means is that it’s more difficult to get a patent registered, because the examiners they understand your tech and technology and they can find all the little flaws in it. So if a company if a Korean company manages to get a patent registered in Korea, then it should be relatively easy to get it registered in most other countries in the world as well. So having a high patent examination standard in Korea sets the bar very high. So it’s kind of like training with weights on your shoes and then once you take them off then you can run faster. So Korean comm means to actually benefit from that. And if I can just add a little bit for that to that, because you asked him about the role of the Korean government and all this. So what can the Korean government or the Korean IP office do to make Korea even stronger in tech, and also and in IP, there are several things that they can do, they can, which they’re already doing. But they could do more of they could provide financial support for small and medium sized companies, they can make it easier to find applications, especially overseas, as we were talking about before. And one one way that they are doing this is with these so called patent prosecution highways. So these patent prosecution highways are usually bilateral agreements between the IP office or governments have two countries, for example, there’s a patent prosecution highway between Korea and the US. And basically, it’s an agreement to accept the examination results, at least partially of the other countries. So if you get a patent registered in Korea, then and you can use this patent prosecution highway to get it, get it registered in the US more quickly and more easily. And they’ve got Korea now has a bunch of these patent prosecution highways all over the world. So they are actually taking steps to make it easier for Korean companies to file their IP overseas, and then to ultimately export the technology through licensing agreements, etc, etc.
Alex Jensen: Ben Morris, thank you for taking us so deeply into the world of IP. And I’m just probably off to the Netherlands to register what Korea is cost is the greatest podcast ever. Would I be able to do that?
Yes, you could do that. unless they’ve changed the rules that might be a bit bold at this stage.
Alex Jensen: Thank you very much as well for your time today.
Yes. Excellent. Thanks a lot, Alex.
Alex Jensen: And if you want to get involved, offer your feedback, join our community in any shape or form drop us an email via email@example.com.
Alex Jensen: We now go in search of some inspiration from a man who was born in Cambodia has a Chinese family background has been based in Japan and now Korea plus a stint in France. x quants. Co-Chair Thrun is a pleasure to welcome you on Koreabizcast. Thank you for taking the time.
Thank you, Alex. It’s great to be here. And thank you for inviting me.
Alex Jensen: So, x croissant is a new venture for you. Right? Can you tell us a bit more about the business?
Sure. Yes, ex con has been founded in 2019. So it’s been two years now, since we started business. So what we are doing is we are developing applications to help the financial institutions to improve the productivity in the front office and back office. So far we are we have done already one application which has been successfully sold. And then we are going to roll it out a second application that will help the fund managers now to run the portfolio.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, I’d like to come back to that. But first, maybe a bit more on your background, because it’s in trading predominantly. Isn’t that right?
So I spent 25 years actually, in the finance industry as a as a trader. And, but, but actually stopped through software, it is something that I really like. And as a hobby when I was when I was 12. I started coding. And I, I wanted at a time to make a game and to sell it and I was 12 years old. And then later on I studied finance and I became a trader. So I didn’t have a chance to really do that. So after now I’m kind of retiring from the finance industry. I’m happy to be back to my child’s dream to do the thing I really like.
Alex Jensen: And then what drew you to Korea?
When I was working in Japan, mostly almost 25 years ago, I met my wife who is with Korea, and actually my wife, she lived with me a few years in France but finally she said that she will prefer just to back to home countries. So I follow her back in Korea. And now I’m actually very happy. I’m near and with my wife and also her family here so it’s hard for my family. Because Korean as you know, they consider the other side also as a family so is half my family’s here.
Alex Jensen: Indeed. And I think there are many spouses who are responsible for bringing people to Korea that’s actually more of a factor in business than people give it credit for. I imagined but you seem to cover all the main Northeast Asian bases How does Korea compare among them both culturally and as a place to do business I’m aware that question could deserve a whole book in its answer but how would you be drawn to it?
What I think Korea has some strength or weakness no so for example to me what I’m seeing is Korea first it’s a very well organized country and a lot of things for example online if you if you deal with administration’s you know, everything you can apply to get any paper or just from internet and everything is really efficient so that is really a great place to work now. As for the business I’m going to leave so and also Korean work very efficiently and also very, very fast they are very reliable and trustworthy so that also makes things much easier when you’re dealing with either in the business setting and also I think another not advantage of dealing with Korean is that Korean they are in their mentality they’re quite flexible. So for example you know, there are rules but not every rule is the win is not possible is not 100% impossible meaning that if you look for a solution you always find something so from that point of view, maybe change a little bit is different from let’s say Japan where it is not allowed and is never be heard. Whereas in Korea is not allowed if you think about it and you always found a solution you compromise or think so this flexibility makes things easier. And then lastly for my company as a startup we are beneficiary of many supporting program monetary support and also some space for them and it’s quite easy to get either your Korean company or foreign companies so it really helping us a lot were at the beginning of cash is very important that year on the negative side I think there’s a bit of bureaucracy but because also everything you know is well organized then the organization make also things quite complex where you have many formulas many reports etc so all those program for example that we are we are beneficiary but in the other hand in order to get the money to activate some fun at the time we need to make a lot of report about application and also a grand use age etc I guess maybe other countries it’s the same but here is excessively heavy and another thing is that Korea is not actually sort of foreigner friendly country in terms of language many form a number many website application or administration everything works in Korean and doesn’t work in English so if you if you’re not comfortable you will have trouble for example at least in my in my in my own case My name is Shiraz run so first name cheers from my last name but it happens that some bank for example they invert My name is by far the minimum and my first name and because of that then every time I try to apply for something then it doesn’t match the first name and last name into the handle and because of the phonetic differences and then it doesn’t match so we have a lot of problem just because of that yeah and the most terrible thing is that the certificate system in order the what is called the eating soul where you install the system inside for certification on every website we need that now. It is horrible to have to set up when mostly you are cautious.
Now I think a lot of people will sympathize with what you’re saying there and I forget sometimes which combination of letters I’m supposed to use in my own name and even whether I need capslock or not for example it all seems to make a difference when you’re just doing basic verification online so when you’re doing business stuff I can imagine it gets even more frustrating. But with your Chinese background, what are your thoughts on the need to actually embrace China and do business with China at a time when we’re in this new Cold War atmosphere thing this is
this is very interesting. As always oversea Chinese, you know to I we see China as to go but for to go the other country of our system. So when I was kid even have been told that China one day we rise and become a strong country and will not be not be the paper tiger as we have In court, you know, I’m not. So we said today, it is a reality that China’s has become a strong country, and probably the strongest, at least in 2025, China economy will overtake the USA. So I think as a, as a Chinese ethnic, I probably can be proud and many of them we will we will think the same. But, but is everything okay? No, I think we are, we also see the things with the eyes of the Westerners, you know, and we know to the media, that is many issues, of course, we are all aware of So, so this, this, that’s not of course not doesn’t make us proud. But how do you say that? You know, for example, let’s say if you’re American, are you proud of the war in Iraq? Or are you proud of what? What the US data in Afghanistan? Or are you proud of Jota? Floyd? Are you proud of the capital attack, etc? So yes, I think we, each country, we have its own sort of shadow, you know, it’s, and for example, as a French, you know, we are not proud of what we did in Ronda, I said to her, I think we can leave that, but it doesn’t mean that we, we have to close our eyes on it. And certainly, in the case of the danger of China, I think we need we need to embrace, I think we need to embrace China’s, as you said, and not to, not to reject it, you know, if, if we reject it, we and maybe we are not much different than certain other than some Muslim country who reject USA, and I think USA is the enemy now. So I think, in case of China, I will say that, yes, embracing Yes. But not necessarily no doing the kowtowing and not accepting everything without say, I think by working together with, with China, and we can help or maybe influence thing to get better. And hopefully, you know, I think each government has its own the same value, meaning that they wants to make the people happy, they wanted the economy to thrive, and to try and drive people out of poverty, etc. And then from that point of view, I think China has done a great job. And I think we will, we should go along with it. But there’s
also the question of business risk, for example, and, and when politics becomes a business strategy, if you like,
yes. And by the way, I, my uncle would have an uncle working in China have some cousin working in China, and when I talk to them, they are actually okay with that and the from, from the Westerners eyes, we see inside as very dangerous, etc. But, you know, they Okay, they of course, know, they, they know that they are things that they shouldn’t say, publicly or, you know, there’s control the US as soon as you know, well, when a Western you, you leave with the fake news, you leave with some, some surveillance, you know, from NSA, etc. So people live with that. And as long as you don’t do anything wrong, I think you’re fine. So yes, indeed, no, it is. Be careful, but I think you can leave that that is what my, my, the feedback I have, from my, from my family, cousin living in China,
who another trend, aside from politics is the tech revolution that seems to have accelerated during the pandemic. And with your venture, being very fresh still, what convinced you that now was the time to pursue AI and tech related business?
Yes, yes. So in fact, we started a AI venture, where before the pandemic, of course, I’m writing in 2015, in my case, and I’m, I’m really, I really need to start to, to, to, to learn much more, what I can do, and myself in being able to develop some AI application, etc. And the trigger to me, was in in 2016, there was a there was a big game between Isa doll and AlphaGo and have developed by DeepMind. And in Korea, it was a big thing. So I told my boss, I said, I can do AI, I can use AI for trading, and the boss drew for it, you know, set up a team. And if you do that our company hasn’t. The value of company we’re very, very different. So that is how I started in 2016.
And if we fast forward to the present moment, I said to you before we could come back to your business, and I’d love to hear more about your, your present day and near future goals, as well as where you see your place in the industry as a whole.
So So, at the beginning, we are we are start when we started excurrent we are we are thinking to use AI to work on many portfolio, but a little by little we, our business changed a little bit because we thought that the data we realized that data became essential for everything we want to do, for example, in order to run the portfolio data is needed, you want to run ESG portfolio, where do you get the data, so, we started to use what was called NLP natural language processing to find data to to make analysis, so that portfolio managers can have data to decide on whether to invest or what or how they how they can engage with the different stakeholders. And by doing that, we realize that actually, only looking for data is a full-time job. So, we start to focus really on the data. And we also, we also know that from internally by working for all the banks that a lot of need for, for automation, the back office is essentially inefficient, when they receive for example, in contract, confirmation of the transaction, everything is done manually, the data has been extracted, manually taking a lot of time. So we developed our application, which is 400 times faster than a human input. And now the back office, we just take a document and go through the process, and we’re done three seconds, and then we we extract the older data whereas before he would take 20 minutes, so we believe that there’s a lot of potential for us to penetrate. And the banking industry usually is very, very slow moving as you know, but the C level executives they know that things need to be changed and idea embracing the new technology and a lot of things cannot be done internally. And they need a company from outside. And that is where we come You know, that is what we see ourselves because myself I was working in AI nobody word of the financial industry, we know that the day problem we know how they organize. And now we are we possess the technology to solve this solution. So I believe that how our role is crucial and we have a key role to play in our four, four to helping the bank to achieve their digital transformation. As the this the term that people use,
or certainly enjoyed hearing about your business and I will be cheering you on and look forward to catching up with you with your next successes. Maybe on the side, you can develop a solution to what we spoke about before with all the chaos with the certificates online here. A chair has run. Thank you very much for taking the time.
Yes. Okay. Thank you very much, Alex.
Well, thanks for being with us today on career biz cast with the KBLA and to our guests chair shran. And before that, Ben Morris. We’ll be back tomorrow from 7am, Korea time for the next edition. So have a great day and remember to make Koreabizcast part of your essential daily listening