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PACIFIC REPORT : Curing a Copycat Syndrome : Technology: Shortcuts to product development have left South Korea behind other nations in technology. It is now pouring more money into research.

TROUBLED TIGER: Cracks in South Korea's Economic Miracle. Second of two parts.

April 08, 1991|LESLIE HELM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In January, Lucky announced that it would license the product to Glaxo, a British pharmaceuticals firm. "They have the second-best-selling antibiotic in the world, and they told us ours is better," Oh Hun-Seung, managing director of the research center, says proudly.

Oh admits that a great deal of luck was involved in the research. And it was a fundamental change in Korean patent law, not farsightedness, that drove it to be more inventive.

Until 1987, a Korean chemical company was allowed to reproduce an American product without paying license fees if it simply developed a slightly different process for manufacturing the product. Now the product itself must be different, or companies must pay license fees to the original developers.

All this emphasis on technology may yet make Taedok a cradle of Korean science. Companies are finally getting more serious about setting up research labs and are looking to Taedok as the ideal location.

By the end of next year, when an international exposition is scheduled for the site, Taedok should be a far livelier place. While only 20 institutes are open now, 61 are expected to have made their home in the science city by then.

SOUTH KOREA'S ELECTRONICS EXPORTS South Korea became known in the late 1980s for its rapid growth in exports of consumer electronics products such as videocassette recorders and color television sets. But as the figures below show, export growth in some of these products has slowed, and has actually declined with VCRs.Source: Electronic Industries Assn. of Korea

PRODUCTIVITY: JAPAN BEATS KOREA

Production per person per year

Korea Japan Color TVs 4,000 units 7,300 units Autos 19.3 cars 58.5 cars Steel 463,000 tons 634,000 tons Ships $20,000 $50,000

Production per person per day

Korea Japan Color TVs 11.8 29.6 Cassette recorders 15.7 42.1 Stereos 5.7 15.7 Washing machines 8.2 19.7

Source: Korea Economic Planning Board report on automation.

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