Right now the current political world lacks clarity. After a hotly contested presidential election, Georgia is on its way to two Senate runoffs. Still, despite the controversy and drama, we cannot allow politics to get in the way of commonsense policy that benefits everyday Georgians.
Soon, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) will make a decision that presents President Donald Trump with a choice that will have a real, substantive impact on thousands of Georgians and the entire country. President Trump has strongly supported protecting against theft of intellectual property (IP), but there are others who seek to undermine the last four years of progress.
Recently, the ITC delayed a decision in a trade-secrets case involving South Korean battery makers LG Chem (LGC) and SK Innovation (SKI). Last year, LGC formally alleged that SKI stole LGC’s trade secrets, and in turn sought relief from the ITC. If granted, the ITC would block SKI from using the stolen technology to produce batteries in the U.S. and also ban importing the components needed to make them.
The ITC’s decision was initially planned for October 5, but has been postponed to December 10. Notably, that put their decision after the presidential election, but before the now upcoming Georgia runoff. LGC has its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, and SKI recently announced a large investment in its Georgia-based site.
The ITC already made a default judgement in favor of LGC earlier this year including a finding that SKI destroyed evidence. It is expected that the final judgement will affirm that ruling. But SKI is now hoping that President Trump will prioritize politics and reverse the final decision to protect Georgia’s jobs in a tightly contested state.
The presidential race was neck-and-neck in Georgia, and now there are two Senate runoff elections. Fortunately, protecting Georgia’s jobs and intellectual property in the U.S. are not mutually exclusive – President Trump can do both by supporting the ITC’s ruling.
The ITC is required to make decisions based on the facts and the law, not what’s politically expedient. When it comes to SKI stealing LGC’s trade secrets, the facts and the law are clear. According to the initial determination by the ITC, “The SKI Respondents did so by conspiring with then-LGC employees—who have since moved to Respondents—to transfer LGC’s most sensitive Trade Secrets. These Trade Secrets include highly proprietary manufacturing processes and systems for the production of EV batteries.”
SKI clearly gave itself an artificial advantage by stealing LGC’s trade secrets covering the design, development, and manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries. Now, SKI wants a get-out-of-jail- free card because it claims to be investing in American manufacturing. In September, SKI announced plans to hire more than 1,000 skilled American workers at their Georgia plant by the end of 2021.
Yet there is reason to believe these aren’t their true intentions. In September, SKI was caught using illegal immigrants from Korea—and not U.S. citizens— for the second time in just four months. This is not a company that’s committed to creating and protecting American jobs, and therefore can’t be trusted.
The ITC’s decision in no way impacts the potential jobs at the SKI manufacturing facility in Commerce, GA. The ITC’s decision is solely about restoring LGC’s loss and obtaining an appropriate remedy for SKI’s egregious past conduct. What happens to the potential jobs and the plant is entirely up to SKI.
This is also about setting an important precedent when it comes to IP theft, and President Trump has an opportunity to do exactly that. A 2017 study estimates that IP theft costs the U.S. between $250-600 billion annually, causing $1.2 trillion in economic damage between 2013-2017 alone. Allowing SKI’s theft to go unpunished would send exactly the wrong message to China, which routinely steals IP from U.S. companies.
With the uncertainty and economic havoc wrought by Covid-19, we cannot afford bad economic decisions or looking weak to China. Fortunately, by supporting the ITC’s decision to hold SKI accountable for their illegal behavior, President Trump can send a strong message to our international adversary, uphold law and order, protect our economy, and create Peach state jobs.
Lynn Westmoreland is a former member of Congress from Georgia.