Jackson County battery plant punished in trade secret controversy

SK Battery broke ground in March, 2019. A US Trade Commission ruling aims to punish the company before it even opens its doors.

A big blow for the future of a multi-billion dollar factory under construction in North Georgia.

The US International Trade Commission ruled that SK Battery should be punished for using trade secrets from a rival battery manufacturer.

LG Chem — now called LG Energy Solutions — accused SK Battery of hiring away its employees to steal its lithium ion battery technology.

SK Battery is currently building a $2.6 billion factory in Jackson County, a huge development expected to eventually generate 2600 jobs. The state of Georgia agreed to $300 million in tax incentives. The plant is due to open in 2022.

The plant covers 2.4M square feet along I-85 in Jackson County. It's supposed to be fully operational in 2022.

Instead, the USITC ordered a 10-year importation ban for SK Battery on all lithium-ion batteries, battery cells, battery modules, and battery packs. Many of those components are needed to build electric vehicle batteries in Jackson County.

"SKI’s total disregard of our warnings and intellectual property rights gave us no choice but to file this case," said John Hyun Jim, CEO of LG Energy Solution. "We are grateful to the International Trade Commission for protecting our innovations and significant economic investments in the United States."

LG Energy Solution’s North American headquarters is in Atlanta.

SK Battery had already signed deals to provide batteries for the electric Ford F-150 and a Volkwagen SUV being built in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The order allows SK Battery a four-year window to manufacture batteries for Ford and a two-year window for VW, giving both time to "transition to new domestic suppliers" of batteries.

The USITC originally ruled against SK Battery in February 2020, after an administrative law judge reviewed a series of deleted emails investigators discovered on SK computers.

Some of those emails were clearly embarrassing, instructing SK employees to "delete every material related to the rival company" and "delete this email after completing this directive."

It left state and local leaders in the awkward position of lobbying the full USITC to go easy on SK Battery, despite evidence of what the judge called "intentional" non-compliance.

Parent company SK Innovation released this statement:

"SK Innovation will immediately enter into discussions with our customers, Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen, as a result of the ITC's decision.  We have serious concerns about the commercial and operational implications of this decision for the future of our EV-battery facility in Commerce, Georgia, which is expected to employ 2,600 people when soon completed.  We also believe that the ITC ruling could have a serious adverse impact on President Biden's policies to combat climate change and expand the electrification of the US auto fleet in coming years.  We look forward to having detailed discussions with Biden administration officials charged with reviewing the ITC's ruling and carrying out the President's policies related to electric vehicles and the environment."

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