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US panel again delays ruling on trade secret case involving 2 Korean EV battery makers

LG Chem and SK Innovation (Yonhap)
LG Chem and SK Innovation (Yonhap)
A US trade panel on Wednesday again postponed a much-awaited ruling on a trade secret dispute involving South Korean battery makers LG Energy Solution Ltd. and SK Innovation Co. to Feb. 10.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) postponed the final ruling slated for Dec. 10 without elaborating on the reason, putting off the schedule for the third time.

LG Energy Solution, which supplies batteries to Tesla and General Motors, filed trade complaints with the ITC in early 2019, claiming SK Innovation stole its trade secrets of electric vehicle battery technology by hiring its former employees.

LG Energy Solution is LG Chem Ltd.'s battery subsidiary launched earlier this month and now is in charge of the battery lawsuits.

SK Innovation denied any wrongdoing, but the ITC handed down a preliminary ruling in default judgment in February to support claims by LG Energy Solution.

An adverse ruling could ban SK Innovation from shipping in materials needed to make EV batteries at its US factory in Georgia, which could deal a blow to its clients Volkswagen and Ford Motors.

The automakers have said the dispute between the Korean battery makers could disrupt supplies of the key EV parts and cost the US jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The companies struck a different tone on guessing why the final ruling was once again delayed.

LG Energy Solution said COVID-19 may have affected the ITC's schedule, given over 50 cases were delayed this year.

SK Innovation said the ITC may be "carefully looking into the case" to figure out the case's impact on the US economy, expressing worries over prolonged business uncertainties due to the drawn-out legal dispute.

"As the litigation process is prolonged, we hope the two companies make smart decisions to end the dispute to clear out business uncertainties and focus on their core businesses," SK Innovation said in a release.

The two companies have been at loggerheads over EV battery-related trade secrets since last year, filing multiple lawsuits in the US and South Korea, in a toughening competition to get a bigger slice of the lucrative EV market.

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

Currently, LG Energy Solution operates an EV battery plant in Michigan and began constructing its second plant in Ohio earlier this 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.

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

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. (Yonhap)
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