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SK Innovation vows to overcome import ban to make batteries in US

South Korean company may face hefty bill to settle trade secrets case with LG

SK Innovation of South Korea is building EV battery factories in the U.S. to serve Ford and Volkswagen.    © Reuters

SEOUL -- SK Innovation said on Monday that it remains committed to producing electric vehicle batteries in the U.S. despite being slapped with a 10-year import ban by the American trade commission last week.

"We will actively cope with the remaining litigations and all other processes to ensure we have no problems producing batteries in the U.S.," the South Korean company said in a regulatory filing.

The announcement comes days after the U.S. International Trade Commission sided with rival LG Energy Solution in a dispute over trade secrets. The ITC ruled that SKI had stolen technology from its compatriot and issued a limited exclusion order prohibiting SKI from importing EV batteries and components into the U.S. for 10 years.

However, the commission permitted SKI to supply its batteries for the electric version of Ford Motor's F-150 for four years and to Volkswagen's American unit for two years to give the automakers time to transition to new domestic suppliers. SKI is building two EV battery factories in the state of Georgia with an investment of $2.7 billion.

Shares of SKI dropped 4.2% on Monday, while LG Chem, the parent of LG Energy Solution, closed up 3.1%. LG Energy has pressed SKI to negotiate a settlement, threatening to take the company to court in Europe and South Korea as well. LG Energy did not reveal how much it is seeking in compensation, but at a news conference on Thursday said it depends on SKI's "attitude" whether LG will include punitive compensation worth up to two times the losses related to the theft. 

SKI said LG is seeking a few billon dollars in compensation and is unwilling to negotiate on the point. "LG argues that we should pay all that money because they won [the ITC case]. That is too much for us," a spokesperson for SKI said on Monday. "We do not rule out that it will take longer to reach a compromise."

Analysts say that SKI may have no option but to pay the compensation that LG Energy is seeking in order to resolve the uncertainties surrounding its business.

"We believe that they will reach agreement in 60 days. The compensation may reach around a few trillion won [a few billion dollars]," said Kang Dong-jin, an analyst at Hyundai Motor Securities.

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