Insider Advantage: LG Energy Solution scouting sites for major US expansion

Insider Advantage

LGES will invest $4.5 billion in its US battery production operations after the USITC found rival SKI had stolen its trade secrets. Now, SKI is trying to hold Georgia hostage.

The US International Trade Commission, a federal administrative law agency that most Americans have no reason to recognize, suddenly became the most-discussed government body across the state when it ruled last month that Korean battery maker SK Innovation had misappropriated a competitor’s intellectual property.

That decision, which followed SKI’s attempts to obstruct justice by destroying troves of evidence that it had stolen LG Energy Solution’s trade secrets, has prompted understandable concerns that it could negatively impact a new manufacturing center the company is building in north Georgia. Understand, though, that this ruling will not hurt the people of Georgia—not now, not ever.

The Commission carefully balanced its mandate to protect technical advancement with the imperative to preserve jobs in this case. Beyond those provisions, LGES is prepared to do whatever it can to help Georgia’s working families if SKI ultimately abandons its plant and the state. That includes our best efforts to fill-in any voids created by SKI’s irresponsible business practices.

In finding that SK Innovation had stolen 22 of LG Energy Solution’s battery trade secrets covering all areas of lithium ion battery technology, the Commission actually broke precedent in the interest of Georgia and the electric vehicle supply chain. It will allow SKI to continue exploiting its theft by producing batteries in Georgia for at least four years. Following that time, SKI can either begin using its own intellectual property or can legally obtain rights from LGES to what it stole. But because it wants to do neither, SKI is now threatening to abandon Georgia’s working families when those four years are up.

SK Innovation has a credibility problem, though. They lied when they said they had the technology to mass-produce batteries for electric vehicles. They lied when they said they would use local labor but really hired illegal immigrants with falsified documents. And they’re lying to you now when they say they will vacate their $2.6 billion plant if their ransom isn’t met.

In the course of the US International Trade Commission’s two-year investigation into SKI’s theft, the company presented no evidence of an imminent plant closure. In fact, SKI has told its customers and Korean regulators that it would continue to move forward with the Georgia site regardless of the Commission’s decision.

The Commission’s decision already provides unprecedented allowances for SKI to finish work on its plant, hire Georgians to staff it, and produce batteries despite its theft, and further provides a simple, legal framework for their US operations long-term.

But rather than paying fair compensation to LG Energy Solution for what the US government said it stole, SK Innovation is now spending millions of dollars in a lobbying strategy that involves holding Georgia hostage. Rather than developing its own intellectual property, SK Innovation is scheming instead to secure a pardon for its malicious, repeated illegal actions.

The electrification of America’s automotive fleet is coming, which means demand for batteries will grow exponentially. In addition to existing manufacturing operations in the Midwest, LGES announced a major US expansion plan this week. The company is actively scouting new locations for it, and Georgia is a uniquely attractive one. As a business decision, LGES certainly understands why SKI chose Georgia; we only wish they had planned to use their own intellectual property here. But if LGES is to grow and invest in Georgia, we must be confident that the billions of dollars and millions of hours of careful engineering will be protected.

Georgia will be making batteries for next-generation cars for decades, and nothing about the US International Trade Commission’s ruling will change that.

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