SK hires former attorney general in bid to overturn ruling

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08:  Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates is advising SK Innovation on its dispute over trade secrets used at a northeast Georgia battery plant.
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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates is advising SK Innovation on its dispute over trade secrets used at a northeast Georgia battery plant.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

President Joe Biden should reject an International Trade Commission’s ruling that imperils a northeast Georgia factory that plans to produce batteries for electric cars, said former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates.

The South Korean company building the $2.6 billion plant, SK Innovation, hired Yates for advice on public policy aspects of the dispute. Yates served as acting U.S. attorney general for 10 days in January 2017. She was fired by President Donald Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban. She is now in private practice with the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding.

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in February that SK stole trade secrets from LG Energy Solution and said SK can make batteries in Georgia for a limited time before it must stop importing the necessary parts.

Biden should reject the ruling because it would stymie four crucial policy objectives, Yates said in a Tuesday interview. For one, it threatens the creation of 2,600 of jobs in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp has urged Biden to reject the ruling for the same reason.

The ruling would also hamper the ability of the U.S. to combat climate change through wider use of electric cars, Yates said. It would put the U.S. behind China in the global market for making electric vehicle batteries, threatening U.S. national security interests. And it would restrict the ability of Ford and Volkswagen – which have agreed to buy SK’s batteries – to meet the terms of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.

Biden has until April 9 to approve or disapprove the ITC ruling. If he approves it, SK will appeal the decision to a federal court, said Sturgis Sobin, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who’s leading the company’s litigation strategy. If he rejects it, LG would likely revive a federal lawsuit in Delaware that addresses the same issues.

The ITC can only ban a company from importing parts, but a federal judge can issue rulings that don’t negatively impact U.S. policy goals, Yates said. Thus, a federal court is a better forum for settling this case, she said.

It would set a dangerous precedent to discard the ITC ruling, said Sam Olens, an attorney for LG.

“You can’t encourage economic development projects in your state if you can’t ensure you will protect intellectual property,” he said.

Yates, an Atlanta native, was also a deputy attorney general in the Obama administration and was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 2010 to 2015.

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