Liquidated Damages v. Penalties in Korean contracts

As an American attorney, it’s a bit strange for me to read a Korean contract and see how the word “penalty” is used.  In the United States (as well as other common law jurisdictions), when a contract contains a “penalty,” the clause is invalidated. Korea, however, allows some “penalties” in contracts. Cutting to the chase, this is merely an issue of confusing and overlapping terminology.  But since its confusing, its worth explaining. To start with, a bit of background on liquidated damages.  Liquidated damages refer to damages, the amount of which, the parties designate during formation of a contract as compensation for non-breaching parties in the event of breach.   In the US and other common law jurisdictions, liquidated damages clauses are invalidated if the purpose is to punish the breaching party, rather than to compensate the injured party.  These clauses are referred to by the court as “penalties.” Now, contrary

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Choice of Law Issues in Employment Disputes in Korea

Choice of law/jurisdiction issue often arise in Korea when an agreement chooses a law/jurisdiction for resolution of a dispute other than Korea, internal conflicts in the agreement exist (yes this happens) or no choice of law/jurisdiction clause was chosen and the agreement seems to be better handled by a foreign court, or by the law of the foreign jurisdiction, because of, inter alia, the locale of witnesses and the subject matter of the agreement. Choice of law/jurisdiction issues are governed in Korea mainly by Korea’s Private International Act (KPIA).  However, other acts often trump the KPIA, or else the courts use built-in “public policy” arguments to allow Korean law to trump the non-Korean chosen law. For example, in the majority of employment law disputes, Korea courts have invalidated choice of the law and jurisdiction clauses that note a law or jurisdiction other than Korea. For example, if a employer hiring someone for

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Employment Background Checks in Korea: Not so Different from China

My friends over at the China Law Blog posted an article quoting the Chinese Business Leadership blog that noting that: “We were placing a GM for a Western family owned factory. They are small and troubled.  We found 15 thoroughly qualified candidates for the position. We had candidates tell us they worked at a company 5 years when they only worked. We had candidates tell us they were super valuable,  and the company does not want to let them go. We were able to find out that they were fired a year before while still in probation. As the last of the group of 15 refused to come clean and give us an accurate resume, we shook our heads in dismay. We are excellent at interviews and interview 90 minutes as our goal is to know. Despite that, we were unable to uncover these issues before the background check. We

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Distribution Agreements in Korea: Crawl before you Walk

Prior to going into any relationship with a distributor/agent in Korea, please read my post entitled: Finding a Korean Distributor: The Top 10 Things to Know Before Going to Bed with a Distributor in Korea. Please read that post in combination with this post, prior to engaging a distributor in Korea. We see too many Korean distribution agreements that are mere spun U.S. or European agreements.  Please have your Korean distribution agreement and all agreements you have in Korea drafted by an experienced and proactive attorney that has on-the-ground experience in Korea.  We see too many issues that could have been easily resolved by a carefully drafted agreement and a little due diligence. Issues to consider for your Korean Distribution Agreement: Will your distributor in Korea be your agent?  If the Korean distributor is an agent, generally, you will, only, be paying your agent In Korea a commission and you will be

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Korean Business Culture vs. Western Business Culture Explained by IPG Attorneys

We, often, have clients that proclaim that they can’t understand the way that Koreans do things.  They complain about an inability to reason, keep promises, express opinions and give a straight answer. Koreans have plenty of complaints about Westerners also.  Koreans, often, complain that Westerners concentrate too much on details and not enough on the big picture, care about money more than friendship and focus too much on efficiency. The root of these issues is vastly different cultural realities. Korean Business the Gangnam-Style Way The Lewis Cultural Model does an excellent job of explaining these differences.  The Lewis Cultural Model breaks cultures into three distinct categories: Linear-Active; Multi-Active; and Reactive. Linear-Active Cultures Linear-Active cultures base decisions and actions on logic.  Individuals in these cultures tend to be efficient, schedule oriented, and base decisions on a plan and reason.  These individuals are often criticized for focusing too much on the task at

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Can you Succeed in Korea without Resorting to Bribery?

Perhaps in a few warped ways, I have a bit of affection for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies from bribing officials overseas. From a nostalgic perspective, I recall when this act was made into law while I was at my first “real job” at The Chase Manhattan Bank in Seoul. The immediate reactions around me in the US business community were those of dread. We were certain that we would be put to disadvantage when competing with the locals as well as with other foreign nationalities. It turned out not to be the case. In fact, by and large we discovered the act gave us legitimate cover not to “go local” in conducting unethical and potentially sordid business practices. In time, other Western nations passed similar laws. While this clean business movement has hardly eradicated corruption, it has contributed to reducing unethical business behavior – most

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Korea Licensing Agreements: Licensing of Technology, Trademarks and other IP in Korea

We always advise our clients for every license agreement that there is a very high probability that at the end of the agreement license payment obligations will not be honored by the Korean licensee. The same holds true for our Chinese and Southeast Asian practices. If a Korean licensee is not going to continue the relationship with the foreign licensor, many Korean companies simply choose to forego the obliged payments in favor of not responding to emails, phone calls and mail.  We represent many foreign companies that retain us to collect on overdue payments from the Korean licensees. We are often disappointed at seeing license agreements that are simply form agreements from U.S./European Law firms or agreements drafted by Korean law firms with Korean and foreign attorney hacks. Sorry to call fellow attorneys hacks, but after reading one of the license agreements from one of the “ubiquitous big firms,” the term

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So you want to do business in Korea? Listen to my Mother. Korean Joint Venture/Partnership Basics

My wise mother once told me to: look both ways before crossing the street; carry an umbrella to school in the spring; and don’t go out alone at night. The advice can go along way when doing business in Korea or even in most parts of the world. Getting involved in business in Korea is unwise without due diligence (Look both ways before crossing the street), carefully drafted shareholder agreements (carry and umbrella in the spring) and some Korean know-how (don’t go out alone in the dark). Korean statutory law provides less protection to non-controlling shareholders than in Europe, States and in many other parts of the world. This article is not intended to discourage investors. Don’t avoid joint ventures in Korea; just enter them with understanding, care and a Korea-savvy guide. The horror stories about the pitfalls of doing business in Korea can fill a book. However, the same

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Wills, Trusts, Pre-Nuptial Agreements, Living Wills, and Power of Attorneys in Korea

We receive numerous calls requesting the notarization of wills, living wills, general and specific power of attorneys, prenuptial agreements and other like agreements and documents in Korea. These documents are, often, just pulled from the internet.  Pulling these documents from the internet is not adequate – in most cases. We, sometimes, notarize these agreements for clients, however, in most cases we refer the client to their local embassy in Seoul, since the embassy stamp has a far less chance of not being recognized in a foreign jurisdiction than a Korean notarial stamp.  We, often, also, advise a redraft of the document. This post was not written to tell you not to call me about notarial issues (actually don’t contact me about notarial issues unless your nation does not have an embassy in Korea- contact your embassy), but to be aware that many of the agreements and documents that I have

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Basics to Successfully Outsourcing Production of your Product to Korea: Korea OEM Basics

So you have decided to outsource the manufacturing of your products to Korea. Good choice in choosing quality-focused Korea over quantity-focused China, but don’t make the bad choice of not considering basic basic legal due diligence necessary to protect your good name, technology, brand and the future of your business. If you plan on just dealing through a purchase order (PO) in Korea, you are heading down a path that may lead to a kick in the behind. The recession hit small/medium-sized manufacturers even harder than large manufacturers. Many of these SMEs have decided that the only way to survive is OEM (original equipment manufacturing) outsourcing to China, India, and other parts of Asia. I, also, do a good deal of enjoyable work in China. I am, however, always happy to see clients choose Korea over China, since many of the headaches you will experience in China and India will never

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Definition of “Ordinary Wage” in Korea: Korean Employment & Labor Law Basics

The courts of the Republic of Korea, for years, has struggled to find a consistent interpretation of an “Ordinary Wage.”  The definition of Ordinary Wage, under Korean Law, was clarified by the Korean Supreme Court in two decisions handed down on December 18, 2013.  The calculation of Ordinary Wages is important, since it is utilized to calculate statutory entitlements, and thus has an impact on the aggregate amount of contributions necessary to be paid to employees. For example, according to Article 56 of the Korean Labor Standards Act, an employer must pay 50% of the Ordinary Wage plus the Ordinary Wage for overtime, night and weekend work performed by the employee. Because of the potential for a large unknown future liability, this issue became the most significant issue, in the last few years, among domestic and foreign employers in labor and employment law in Korea. The basic Korean test is

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Rights of “Non-Registered” Shareholders in Korea

Questions arise, often, in Korean companies if a non-registered shareholder (not placed in the Korean corporate registry), that can prove that the shareholder is the beneficial “owner” of shares of the company, may exercise rights of a owner of the company.  The Supreme Court has recently made a running on this issue. Supreme Court 2015Da248342 Decided March 23, 2017 The Supreme Court, in this case, ruled that: “In light of the legal nature of a company whereby its ownership structure constantly changes depending on the issuance and transfer of shares, the purpose of the shareholder registry system under the Commercial Act lies in making it easier for a company to externally distinguish its legal relationship with numerous shareholders based on a cursory and uniform standard, thereby improving efficiency in handling matters related to the exercise of shareholder rights and ensuring legal certainty. Only a person owning a company’s shares and

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Privity of Contract in Franchise Agreements in Korea: Korean Franchise Law Updates

Normally, in Korea, a contract/agreement cannot confer rights nor impose obligations upon a person who is no a party to the contract/agreement.  One interesting case, in franchise law, applied this principle to the benefit of the franchisor and the detriment to a supplier.  A Supplier delivered food through a Distributor to a Franchisee based on a franchisee requirement iterated in a franchise agreement with a franchisor.  The case brings to light, also, the potential liability of franchisors for acts of Korean franchisees.  The dispute occurred, of course, since the Supplier was not paid for an outstanding order, since the Franchisee was insolvent.  The Franchisor (deep pocket) was not insolvent and, thus, the only available option for collection was via the Franchisor.  One caveat is that the Franchisor was paid a commission by the Supplier/Distributor for sales to the Franchisee and as noted above, the Franchisee was mandated to use this specific Supplier.  Thus, the

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Expiration Versus Termination of a Distribution Agreement in Korea: Korean Distributor Basics

While Korean Law does not specifically detail the differences in treatment in law between the non-renewal (expiration) of a distribution agreement versus the termination, in reality, Korean courts are less likely to rule in favor of distributors in cases where a distribution agreement is not renewed.  Thus, typically, it is advisable to have a distribution agreement based on a specified term of years.  However, even with the expiration of the Korean Distribution Agreement, termination risks exist. In some cases, Korean courts have noted that termination and even non-renewal is a violation of Korean Law since the non-renewal or termination of the Korean distributor was not based on “good faith.”  In many cases, Korean courts have required a showing of “good cause” to terminate or even to not renew a relationship.  Contractual formalities and structural realities often assist in allowing a non-performing distributor from prevailing in court.  Thus, a nuanced and

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Non-Compete Restrictive Covenant in Employment Contracts in Korea

Korean courts have invalidated numerous, non-compete agreements, reduced the amount of time of the non-compete period and/or have reduced liquidated damage amounts for violation of non-compete agreements.  Courts typically balance the freedom to work (an ability to work outside the specific field) with the significance of the interest in the employer to enforce the covenant not to compete.  The primary factors courts utilize in determining whether to enforce a non-compete agreement are: if compensation was paid in exchange for the covenant not to compete; if the interest being sought protection over includes valuable trade secrets and other valuable intellectual property; if the position of the employee was such that the employee would be able damage the future of the employer; if the employee was terminated for justifiable reasons; if the industry practice is to enforce covenants not to compete; and if the employee is harmed by the covenant not to

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Statutory Severance Obligations in Korea after Acquisition of Company in Korea

Korean employers have, attempted, in many cases unsuccessfully, through mergers, to reduce the statutory severance obligations of a Company through a company acquiring a Company with a workforce with large outstanding severance obligations.  The acquired company, in most cases, is strapped with debt and an inefficient workforce. The acquiring company, inter alia, often alleges that as a separate legal entity it owes no duties to the employees of the acquired company. The acquiring company, thus, alleges that the employees of the old Company are not obligated to receive the accumulated years of severance, thus, reducing vested employee obligations. The Korean Supreme Court has ruled, on numerous occasions, that if an employee has continued work with the new acquiring company that the duties owed to the employees by the acquired company in Korea is owed to the employees by the acquired company, thus, often negating the benefit of the merger. Some

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A “Tasty” Exclusive Agent Agreement for Artists & Entertainers in Korea: Entertainment Law Basics in Korea

The Fair Trade Commission of Korea (FTC) created a sample standard-form Exclusive Agent Agreement for Entertainment Agreements, in Korea, that was, recently, challenged by the Chinese Band Twin Duo “Tasty.” The Chinese band filed a lawsuit against the Korean entertainment company – SM C&C – in order to invalidate a 7-year exclusive agent agreement – claiming that because of major differences with the Korean entertainment company, the relationship between the parties was frustrated.  SM utilized a standard-form agency agreement that was developed by the FTC. In 2015GaHab19327, the Seoul Central District Court ruled, among other things, that: The FTCs standard-form agency agreement is presumptively valid in the entertainment business in Korea. The Seoul Central District Court, further, noted that the intent of this exclusive agreement was not to bind the entertainers to long terms, thus, the FTC made the standard-form exclusive agency agreement term at seven years in order to

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Liquidated (Penalty) Damages Necessary in Most Korean NDA and Non-Compete Agreements

For any company engaged in negotiations, agreements, pre-M & A due diligence, OEM outsourcing or other activities with a Korean business or individuals that may lead to you disclosing your companies intellectual property, know-how or other proprietary information, always include in your no-competition, non-use, non-circumvention and non-compete agreements a liquidated damages (Penalty Damages) clause.  Without a Penalty Damages Clause – good luck in proving damages when a breach occurs. If the other party refuses to sign the clause, this is good sign that the party will breach. The clause is of course, only triggered when a breach occurs. I, recently, had a client that was very worried about losing “goodwill.” Easy solution, blame the “lawyer.” For companies that are not engaged in active, continuous and substantial business in Korea, the chance of finding evidence of damage, after a breach, is remote – best. The reason stems from proof of market potential in

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Starting a Company in Korea: Establishing a Foreign Capital-Invested Korean Company, Branch or Liaison Office

Korea, for many business, is an excellent market to enter.  We assist numerous franchisers, tech companies, chemical companies, oil & gas companies, automotive suppliers, defense companies and basic manufacturing companies on compliance and contentious issues related to their business in Korea.  We, also, assist entrepreneurial individuals in establishing and doing business in Korea. To establish a company in Korea, there are, in short, three legal manners for a foreign company or individual to do business in the Korean Market.  A business may enter as a Foreign Capital-Invested Company (Foreign Direct Investment Company)a Branch or Liaison Office.  In most situations, the most suitable manner to enter the Korean market is via the FDI Company route in order to avail of certain favorable tax treatments, not expose the foreign entity to liability, easier remittance of profits and easier processing of visas. However, many exceptions to this general rule do exist.  The basics

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Sean Hayes Invited to Chair Panel for Horasis Foundation

Sean Hayes shall chair a panel for the Horasis Foundantion’s Conference in Seoul, Korea.  The Horasis Foundation shall hold the conference on September 22 to the 24th. The Conference is entitled: Entrepreneurship: Balancing Disruption and Consent.  Participants at the conference shall include the Chairman of Hansol, the UN Special Envoy for Disaster Risk Reduction, Chairmen of two leading Indian pharmaceuticals, the Chief Investment Officer for IFC, a Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, a former Prime Minister of Japan, a Former Prime Minister of Korea, the Vice Chairman & CEO of the Federation of Korean Industries, and other dignitaries from industry, government and leading NGOs. More information on this conference can be found at the website of Horasis.  Welcome To Horasis Horasis is a global visions community dedicated to inspiring our future. Together with our members we explore, define, and implement trajectories of sustainable growth. Horasis provides strategic foresight to public

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