Who is Lee Jae-won?
Suprema’s founding President Lee Jae-won has taken a unique career path _ he had the chance for an easy and stable life as a researcher but instead opted for a turbulent journey by battling in the business world.
He earned his Ph.D. from Seoul National University in 1997 and studied at Stanford University as a visiting scholar. During the mid 1990s he also joined Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.
After working for the research arm of the Samsung Group for four years, he took 20 million won in seed money and set up Suprema, a supplier of fingerprint recognition technology in 2000.
Initially, the focus was motion-cognitive sensors, one of the main subjects that he researched at the Samsung institute, but the timing couldn’t be worse because the information technology bubble started deflating at that point.
Worse for Lee and his five employees, it seemed that the motion-sensitive system lacked commercial viability as the market was not ready for it.
Without remaining discouraged, the researcher-turned-entrepreneur soon shifted to fingerprint recognition technology which seemed to have more potential.
After introducing the first products in 2003, Lee continued to upgrade them to spark a paradigm shift in the industry. Instead of manufacturing complicated optical structured products, Suprema used an advanced software algorithm.
As a result, cost-effective and easy-to-install and operate products with minimal error rates allowed biometric technology to become mainstream.
Then Suprema hit the jackpot on the Seoul bourse, becoming one of the most-loved shares in the technology-laden Kosdaq market in the late 2000s before U.S. firm Cross Match Technologies filed a patent lawsuit against the firm in 2010.
The court action could have been avoided through compromise with Cross Match but Lee decided to duke it out with the U.S. company despite the snowballing legal expenses.
His rationale was Suprema could seek a peace treaty with Cross Match, yet others would launch legal attacks on Suprema..
The long court battles prompted some to believe that Suprema might go bust.
``Our business portfolio is well diversified as more than two thirds of our turnover comes from exports. The United States accounts for merely five percent of it, though,’’ Lee said.
``Even if we lose the lawsuit, we will just lose a 5-percent share and one-off legal expenses. That won’t affect our bottom line that much. But as we won the suit, we now have access to the big U.S. market without any barriers.’’
To further strengthen the firm’s growth potential, his attention of late has centered on technology that identifies people through their faces. Under his stewardship, the firm unveiled FaceStation, a face recognition terminal, this year.
The market for the technology has yet to be fully realized but Lee thinks that it will become mainstream in the not-so-distant future, the same belief he had in fingerprinting solutions a decade ago when doubts still lingered.