Silicon Valley, Korea look to each other to drive economy

November 13, 2012 9:05:15 AM PST
As the U.S. economy continues to work on its comeback, Silicon Valley is turning to South Korea to help, and South Korea is seeking U.S. partners.

Companies, including Google, see Korea as a vision of the future where high-speed broadband is everywhere and over 90 percent of public transit riders pay fares with smartphones or smartcards. Silicon Valley and Korea compete, but they also want cooperation.

Technology is a key driver of the South Korean economy, making up 40 percent of its trade. And without the components it makes, American's might not have smartphones or high-definition televisions.

"I think it's sort of an uncelebrated fact, but Korean technology pervades the homes and pockets of most Americans," Google Products Vice President Bradley Horowitz said.

The free trade agreement signed last March is already paving the way for more investment and partnerships between Silicon Valley and Korea. Five hundred Korean companies are showing off their latest technology at a two-day conference in Santa Clara.

The Dancing Hubo robot, which showed off its Gangnam Style skills at the conference on Monday, was developed at a leading Korean technology institute. For all the fun, though, California tech firms see Korea as a partner who can help them develop and refine their technology for global sale.

Joaquin Silva's company On-Ramp Wireless makes wireless systems for the energy industry.

"Korea's a great launch pad; very innovative, really a track record for U.S. companies like Qualcomm, teeming with large companies like LG and Samsung, to really be the launching pad and then being able to be a springboard for the rest of the world," Silva said.

Samsung is an electronics giant in Korea, but has been engaged in a protracted legal battle with Apple over patents.

Jae-Hong Kim is the deputy minister for Korea's Ministry of Knowledge Economy. He was reluctant to answer questions whether the legal dispute will hurt efforts to promote stronger ties.

"Samsung and Apple can overcome each other, and they can cooperate more and more," Kim said.

Others hope so, too.

"It is our hope that in doing so, in partnering with the Korean market, we can help get great technology to everyone," Horowitz said.

A job fair will be held at the conference on Tuesday. South Korean companies operating in the Valley are hiring.


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