By Heekyong Yang
SEOUL (Reuters) -The U.S. trade watchdog cleared South Korean battery company SK Innovation Co Ltd of violating rival LG Energy Solution’s patents in a preliminary ruling, sending SK shares surging 15% on Thursday.
The initial determination by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) marks the first time LG Energy Solution has received a negative determination from the trade panel for one of its several legal disputes with SK in the United States.
“The ITC’s decision is regrettable, but we respect its decision,” the wholly-owned battery division of LG Chem said in a statement. The company, whose clients include Tesla Inc, General Motors Co and Hyundai Motor Co, had filed a claim citing four patent infringements to the ITC in 2019.
SK Innovation said it “fully expected” the ITC’s preliminary ruling, adding it had spent years developing its lithium-ion battery technology.
SK shares jumped 10.7% while LG Chem stock rose 1.7% in morning trade, against a 0.7% rise on the broader market KOSPI.
The patents decision could have some bearing on a separate ITC dispute between the pair ITC over claims SK misappropriated trade secrets from LG related to electric vehicle battery technology.
In a February ruling on that issue, the ITC sided with LG, issuing a limited 10-year exclusion order prohibiting imports into the United States of SK’s lithium-ion batteries.
SK, which supplies electric car batteries to Volkswagen, Ford Motor and Hyundai Motor among others, has exercised its right to request a presidential review of that decision.
SK warned on Tuesday it was considering all options, including pulling its battery business out of the United States, if President Joe Biden does not overturn the decision by the review deadline of April 11.
The threat to exit has concerned bipartisan lawmakers in Georgia, where SK plans to build a $2.6 billion factory that will employ nearly 2,600 people, marking the largest foreign investment in the state’s history.
LG, which plans to invest more than $4.5 billion in U.S. battery production over the next four years, has said it can handle the auto industry’s battery needs if SK abandons its Georgia plant.
The two companies can also invalidate the ITC ruling in the trade secrets case by agreeing to a settlement. Han Sang-won, an analyst at Daishin Securities, said the ITC’s decision on patents would affect LG’s leverage at the negotiating table.
Han said SK needed to carefully consider the “various complications” of pulling out of the United States, including its relationship with clients given orders have already been placed for batteries from U.S. production.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; editing by Jane Wardell)