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Is North Korea opening up to western brands?


June 7, 2018

North Korea has been at the centre of the world’s attention, and it remains to be seen what the actual outcome of summit in Singapore will be. However, it seems that the economic sanctions by the West have worked and at some level North Korea is openings its doors. What opportunities will this bring about for western companies?

For western brands, North Korea is not as such anything new. For example, the country joined the international trademark system  ("Madrid Protocol"), administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as early as 1996. Kolster filed the first international trademark applications for North Korea for its customers as early as 1997. According to the statistics by WIPO, Finnish companies have registered just under one hundred trademarks there, nearly all of which are still active. As expected, this group includes large companies, such as Rettig (in 1997), Halti (1998), Wärtsilä (1998), Nokia (2001) and Marimekko (2009). In addition to the above, Aalto University (2008) as well as Ball-It Oy (2009), which is Peter Vesterbacka’s pre-Rovio business in the games sector, can be found on the list. Further, a national trademark can be registered in North Korea, and Kolster has a business partner in the country. Application for a national trademark will cost in the neighbourhood of EUR 1 000 to 2 000, which is well in line with many other countries.  

Business Insider reports that McDonald's and Trump Tower, for example, would be among the desired brands in North Korea. It remains to be seen if a similar snowball effect can now be expected as in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s to early 1990s, where McDonald's for its part accelerated the opening of doors for free competition and the market economy. Even if the market were to open in a managed and step-by-step manner, a unique opportunity may already be available in the very near future to introduce western brands to a virgin market.  

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