I-Team: Rival battery firm suing Korean company

By Randy Travis Published October 19, 2020 COMMERCE, Ga. - A major decision in Washington, D.C., is expected next week that could impact the fortunes of Jackson County and the state of Georgia. The US International Trade Commission is scheduled to decide whether a Korean battery manufacturer stole trade secrets from a rival company and used them to open a new plant in Commerce. SK Battery America is scheduled to finish the first phase of the plant in 2021. When it’s up and running, the $2.6 billion facility along Interstate 85 promises to employ 2,600 people, earning an average annual pay of $40,000. The plant has already signed a deal to provide lithium-ion batteries for the Volkswagen electric SUV being built in Chattanooga, TN, and the new electric Ford F-150 pickup. “I think this project has the potential to bring a whole new level of prosperity to the city of Commerce, Jackson County and the whole area of the state,” predicted Commerce Mayor Clark Hill. By all accounts, the Korean-owned company has done everything right to impress locals. SK Battery officials have appeared at community events and contributed $120,000 to fund a career academy for high school students who could one day work for the company. New retail and feeder companies are already planned in and around this community of 7000 people. But in April 2019, just weeks after a joyful groundbreaking attended by Governor Brian Kemp and other state and federal officials, a darker picture of SK Battery suddenly emerged. Along with an unhappy rival. “It’s a broad range of trade secret technology that were taken from LG Chem,” said Song Jung, LG Chem’s attorney for intellectual property. LG Chem is another lithium-ion battery manufacturer also based in Korea. Coincidentally, the company's American headquarters are in Atlanta. They’re much larger than SK Battery and its parent company SKI. But in recent years, more than 100 LG Chem employees switched sides. And according to a complaint filed the US International Trade Commission, those former employees took with them some important battery secrets. “We became very suspicious of SKI,” said Jung. The complaint accused SK Battery of using LG Chem’s trade secrets as part of the Jackson County operation. Even worse, according to the International Trade Commission’s initial determination, SKI tried to hide the evidence, yet did a sloppy job. Investigators recovered deleted emails giving SK employees some suspicious instructions. SKI denies doing anything wrong, a spokesman telling the FOX 5 I-Team LG Chem is “using this litigation to stifle competition.” But the ITC judge wrote because the coverup was so blatant, he ruled against SKI without even giving them a chance to offer a defense. The full ITC is expected to decide next week. If the order stands, LG Chem’s complaint could block SKI from importing any of the alleged stolen technology, a competitor putting the Jackson County plant in jeopardy.

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