Cleveland Plain Dealer: trade secret case could impact Lordstown EV project

By Kent Kaiser, the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Today, only a handful of companies hold the disruptive technologies needed to unleash the potential of electric vehicles. One of those companies has made investments in Ohio and should serve as a long-term economic and employment anchor for area workers, small businesses, and families.

Global battery manufacturer LG Chem’s battery spinoff is known as LG Energy Solution. In partnership with General Motors, it has established a sizable footprint in Ohio. In 2019, LG announced plans to construct a facility in Northeast Ohio as part of a $2.3 billion investment that is expected to generate well over 1,000 new local jobs.

GM is slated to produce 20,000 electric trucks in Ohio in 2021, and eventually 420,000 vehicles a year.

As Lordstown Motors continues construction, it last week announced an agreement with LG Energy Solution for battery cells as it prepares to start production on its all-electric pickup, The Endurance, in September of this year.

The key factor behind the technology that is driving these investments and jobs is intellectual property (IP). Unfortunately, in the case of LG, the intellectual property has been under assault under the actions of a more recent entrant into the U.S. electric vehicle (EV) sector: a South Korean company named SK Innovation. At the center of the dispute is that SK Innovation plans to build a plant in Georgia and manufacture a battery design that LG says is based on trade secrets and IP stolen from them.

The dispute is currently before the U.S. International Trade Commission. An ITC administrative law judge issued a default judgment a year ago siding with LG after reviewing evidencethat SK Innovation destroyed at least 34,000 files and emails to cover up the alleged theft.

Furthermore, LG accuses SK Innovation, while attempting to recruit and hire former LG employees, of requiring candidatesto provide core manufacturing technology – that is, the exclusive intellectual property of LG Chem.

By the way, SK Innovation has also been found on multiple occasions to be using illegal labor at the plant under construction in Georgia. Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped several Korean nationals using fraudulent employment documents in an attempt to enter the United States illegally, and some without proper paperwork were found to be employed at the site and subsequently detained by immigration authorities, all while local officials reported more than 200 foreign workers were undergoing training at a farm several miles away. These were jobs that local leaders were led to believe would go to workers and communities in Georgia.

Now, under a darkening cloud of allegations, SK Innovation is attempting to circumvent the courts in the hopes of finding a political solution in Washington, D.C. Doing so would come at the expense of good actors like LG that have made investments, lived up to their commitments, created union-based jobs, and played by the rules.

We must make sure the investments made by committed technology-driven companies like LG are secured by ironclad IP protections.

Any efforts by Washington politicians to allow SK Innovation off the hook would send exactly the wrong message. Let’s hope Ohio’s elected officials in Congress agree.

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