Is Former SM Entertainment Chief Lee Soo Man Opening New Agency? Latest Trademark Application Stirs Speculation

SM Entertainment Chief Lee Soo Man trademark new k-pop agency
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SM Entertainment Chief Lee Soo Man trademark new k-pop agency
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Photo Credit: News In Star / CC by 3.0

Former SM Entertainment head Lee Soo Man seems to be planning a return to the industry with an application for a new trademark, ‘A20 Entertainment.’

Local South Korean outlets have revealed that Lee Soo Man’s personal company, Blooming Grace, has filed an application for a new trademark, “A20 Entertainment.” The trademark application was filed on May 3 and spans a range of categories. These include advertising, entertainment, video game devices, real estate, recorded and downloadable media, animal care advisory services, clothing, transportation, design, food and beverages services, medical services, and legal services.

Lee stepped down from SM Entertainment in March of last year following a heated management dispute, after which he signed a stock purchase agreement with rival agency Hybe. The shares Hybe acquired equated a 3.64% stake in SM Entertainment.

That agreement included clauses preventing Lee from engaging in production activities within South Korea for three years. Further, he is prohibited from hiring SM Entertainment employees or signing contracts with SM Entertainment artists during the same three-year period.

Due to the non-compete clause, since leaving SM Entertainment, Lee has focused his efforts on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) projects through Blooming Grace to avoid direct involvement in the South Korean entertainment sector.

But with the new trademark application, media outlets are speculating that Lee is planning a new entertainment venture once the restrictions from his agreement with Hybe expire. The wide net cast over a range of categories suggests the K-pop pioneer’s intent to build a multifaceted business, as K-pop entertainment agencies often do.

Hybe’s total ownership stake in SM Entertainment currently sits at 12.6% after plans to divest its previously held 15.78% stake resulted in it retaining an 8.81% stake; afterward, it gained an additional 3.64% from the purchase of Lee’s shares. According to the filing of the transaction, the value of the 869,948 shares Lee sold to Hybe amounted to 104.3 billion South Korean won, or approximately $76 million based on the exchange rate at the time of purchase.