In 2000 Korea made up 1,578, or 1.6% of the total, of published WO “World” patent applications. By 2009 this had climbed to 8,035, or 5%.
Over 150,000 patent specifications were published in Korea itself in 2009. It is the fourth largest patent authority in the world. Most of these specifications were by residents – only 12800 cited American priority filings, and 700 British filings. They (and the publications in the World system) are of course in Korean. The problem then is in identifying and reading them.
There is a lot of statistical information available.
Even more so than in Japan, large companies dominate Korean patenting, the chaebol (business conglomerates). The main applicants in the World system are LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics, although the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute is also important. Korea is indeed noted for electronic inventions.
Some do appear in translation. Patent applications of Korean origin that go through the European Patent system appear mostly in English (German and French are the other options) and only accounted for some 3,700 documents in 2009. In the US system, they accounted for 16,000 published applications in 2009.
Korea publishes A and B (unexamined and examined) patents, and U and Y (unexamined and examined) utility models (for simpler inventions).
These documents can be found on the KIPRIS website. English abstracts are available from 1999 for the A and from 1973 for the B specifications. Machine translations into English are available, but these are priced. There is also legal status information.
An alternative is to use the Espacenet database with its international coverage. Asking for KR as a publication number limits the search to Korean documents. Occasionally a foreign “equivalent” (usually in English) will be available, which is shown by a PDF icon.
At the time of writing, English titles were available in August 2010, but the actual specifications were absent for September 2010. The “Mosaics” format can be selected to see the drawings only, which may be helpful. English abstracts were only available from about August 2009.
Both the names of applicants and the IPC classes seemed to be available for all published applications, that is, for August 2010.
All this is of course just a brief summary of some key points. There is more on the Korea Virtual Helpdesk page from the European Patent Office, including advice on the numeration system.