The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Veteran trade lawyer urges readiness for heightened geopolitical uncertainty

By Jo He-rim

Published : Jan. 16, 2024 - 11:56

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John Quinn, co-founder and lead lawyer of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Dec. 21. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) John Quinn, co-founder and lead lawyer of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Dec. 21. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Growing geopolitical risks are having profound impacts on the global economy, affecting policies, trade and competition in markets.

In the business world, legal disputes across borders are likely to increase against this backdrop, and geopolitical factors may also affect how these cases play out, John Quinn, a veteran trial lawyer who specializes in patent and corporate law, said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

Quinn founded Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, one of the top litigation-only law firms in Los Angeles, in 1986. He has represented numerous global giants and was also the lead trial counsel for Samsung Electronics in the "holy war" Apple brought up against Android smartphone operating systems in 2011.

"I believe geopolitical factors always hold the potential to affect the results (of court rulings)," Quinn said.

Patent law, for instance, is unique to each jurisdiction, and local courts may somehow favor domestic companies in their rulings, Quinn said.

"Still, I think it really depends on the court where you are. We have sophisticated courts and practitioners. I've heard big companies say you can get fair results in larger cities in China, (for instance), (while the results) may be less (fair) in rural parts in Western countries."

One such cross-border patent dispute has surfaced between display makers of South Korea and China, Samsung Display and BOE technology.

As the two rivals seek to secure a competitive edge in the global market, they have launched several patent suits against each other in the US, South Korea and China to protect their technologies. In a recent pretrial order, the US trade agency has backed the claims of Samsung Display in its five patent infringement cases against the Chinese firm.

Specializing in intellectual property disputes -- involving patents, trade secrets, trademarks and copyright -- Quinn said the key questions discussed in these cases are whether the alleged infringement really occurred, and whether the patent itself is actually valid in the first place.

Having built a reputation as the "most fearful rival" to meet with in court, leading numerous successful cases over the past decades, Quinn anticipated three emerging items will create great changes in the litigation landscape in the future: data, artificial intelligence and climate change.

What happens if the AI is trained on biased data, leading to biased views on people of a certain age, race or sex? Who is responsible when generative AI uses proprietary, copyrighted data or trade secrets without permission?

"This is the situation people call 'new wine in old bottles.' It is not an uncommon situation for courts to have to use older principles to see how they might apply in new cases," Quinn said.

"We don't know what the law is going to be. We don't know what the courts are going to say, for sure. But the first step is to identify the problem, (then to) follow the resolution of courts and try to make predictions and educated guesses about what direction the laws can (go in) to minimize the legal risks posed in being wrong."

Immanuel Quinn represents some of South Korea's top conglomerates such as Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor Group and Hybe, the K-pop agency behind BTS.

Under Quinn’s leadership, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has seen staggering success, expanding to 25 offices across four continents, with over 800 lawyers generating more than $1.3 billion in annual revenue, according to the company.