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US panel postpones decision on LG Chem-SK Innovation EV battery case

SEOUL/WASHINGTON -- A US trade panel on Monday postponed its final decision on a high-stakes trade secret case involving two South Korean electric vehicle battery markers -- LG Chem Ltd. and SK Innovation Co. -- to early December.

The delay marks the second of its kind after the US International Trade Commission (ICT) pushed back its final ruling from Oct. 5.

The decision has now been set for Dec. 10, the US panel said, without providing specific reasons for the further delay.

"The Commission has determined to extend the target date for completion of the investigation from October 26, 2020, to December 10, 2020," the ICT said in a public notice posted on its website.

LG Chem, the world's largest supplier of EV batteries, filed a pair of lawsuits with the US panel and the US District Court of Delaware in April last year, claiming that SK Innovation misappropriated and used its EV battery trade secrets by hiring its former employees.

LG Chem also called for an embargo on importing EV battery-related products from SK Innovation, demanding compensation for the theft of trade secrets.

In February, the US panel made a preliminary ruling in favor of LG Chem in a default judgment without additional hearings or investigations.

On Tuesday, LG Chem vowed to sternly pursue the case, though it said, "The door is open for dialogue" with SK Innovation if SK Innovation seeks to resolve the dispute with sincerity.

LG Chem said the latest delay appears to have been affected by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the US panel has delayed its final rulings on other cases for a second time.

SK Innovation said the delay demonstrates that the US panel is deeply looking into the case and expressed hope that the two companies can quickly end the dispute to remove uncertainty over it.

A final ICT ruling in favor of LG Chem could disrupt US imports of EV batteries from SK Innovation, whose American clients include Ford Motor Co.

SK Innovation is currently building its first EV battery plant in the US state of Georgia for completion by 2022 and recently broke ground on its second plant in Georgia.

The investments in the US would raise SK Innovation's global output capacity to 71 GWh, enough to supply batteries to more than 1.4 million electric vehicles.

SK Innovation said it aims to boost its capacity to 100 GWh by 2025.

Currently, SK Innovation has three plants in operation: one each in South Korea, China and Hungary.

The EV battery market has been on a roll as automakers around the world race to go electric and eco-friendly due to tightened regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are to blame for global warming.

LG Chem is a key supplier of batteries for nearly all major global carmakers, including General Motors, Ford, Renault, Volvo and Volkswagen, as well as South Korea's two largest automakers -- Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors.

Currently, LG Chem operates an EV battery plant in Michigan and began constructing its second plant in northeast Ohio earlier in the year in a joint venture with GM.

LG Chem has said it is on track to boost its production capacity to 100 gigawatt hours by the end of this year, which is enough to supply batteries for about 1.7 million electric cars.

LG Chem also has four battery plants -- two in China, one in South Korea and one in Poland. (Yonhap)