EV battery maker LG Chem sues SK Innovation, alleges trade secret theft

SEOUL (Reuters) - Electric vehicle (EV) battery maker LG Chem said it has sued its South Korean peer SK Innovation in the United States for alleged theft of trade secrets.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SK Innovation is seen in front of its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

LG Chem and its American unit have filed a lawsuit against SK Innovation in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), accusing SK Innovation of misappropriation of trade secrets by hiring its former employees.

It has asked ITC to stop SK’s imports of samples of lithium-ion batteries and infrastructure technology infringing LG Chem’s trade secrets into the United States.

SK Innovation currently produces EV batteries only in South Korea and plans to begin mass production in its Hungary and U.S. factories in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

“This lawsuit is an inevitable measure to protect our core technologies and intellectual property drawn from lengthy research and immense investment,” Shin Hak Cheol, LG Chem’s vice chairman and CEO, said in a statement on Tuesday.

SK Innovation expressed regret over LG Chem’s legal actions in the United States against the company.

“SK Innovation’s battery business will grasp the situation and clarify allegations raised by LG Chem through legal procedures,” SK Innovation said in a statement.

SK Innovation, owner of South Korea’s top refiner SK Energy, is a latecomer to a market dominated by China’s CATL and BYD, Japan’s Panasonic Corp as well as local rivals LG Chem and Samsung SDI Co Ltd.

Since starting mass production in 2012, SK Innovation’s customers have included Germany’s Daimler AG and Volkswagen.

In March, SK Innovation broke ground to build its first U.S. EV battery plant in the southeast state of Georgia.

“SK Innovation has been aggressively investing in EV battery business and these lawsuits might hurt its EV battery business, especially in the United States,” said Hwang Yu-sik, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities.

LG Chem said it expects the ITC’s final ruling on the case in the second half of 2020.

LG Chem ranked fourth in the global EV battery market with a 10.4 percent market share while SK was in tenth place with a 1.7 percent market share during January and February 2019, according to industry tracker SNE Research.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Himani Sarkar