|LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo|
In the past, Korea's fourth-largest conglomerate steered clear of controversies and avoided causing problems even if its interests were undermined. But now it is not shying away from criticizing Samsung and other competitors, and does not hesitate to resort to the courts when the company feels its interests are threatened.
The officials attributed this change to Chairman Koo's drive to spur the conglomerate's units to be more active and agile in protecting their technologies, as competition between companies here and overseas becomes harsher.
"Conglomerates are running their businesses in a flood of legal battles that are being used as a tool to protect themselves," a business administration professor at a Seoul-based university said.
"What's noticeable in LG recently is that the group is taking the war public. LG had the reputation of being a harmonious and friendly company in the past, but now the group seems to be unafraid of disputes."
Currently, several LG companies are in public disputes with major rivals.
LG Chem is in a legal battle with peer electric vehicle battery maker SK Innovation in the U.S. In April, LG Chem filed a petition with the Delaware District Court against SK Innovation, claiming the latter stole confidential business information through employee poaching.
As SK Innovation countersued LG Chem last month, claiming the LG unit has violated its patents, the two battery giants have since been exchanging harsh rhetoric, with the latter demanding the former acknowledge its fault and pay compensation.
LG Electronics is also ramping up its attacks on Samsung Electronics.
At the IFA trade fair last week, LG Electronics Executive Vice President Park Hyoung-sei criticized Samsung, saying its 8K TVs did not comply with criteria set by an international organization that develops display performance measurement standards. Samsung display business President Han Jong-hee denounced the claim as "disrespectful," and commented, "It is human nature to try to imitate and speak ill of the leader."
Prior to this, LG Uplus, filed a petition with the Fair Trade Commission against SK Telecom and KT in July, claiming the two rivals provided illegal subsidies to subscribers. In June, LG Household & Health Care filed a petition with an antitrust body against e-commerce firm Coupang.
Industry officials said the new chairman's leadership highlighting pragmatism as well as tougher competition between companies has affected each group's decision.
"In the past, competitions in display or other businesses were about new growth opportunities. However, it has become a matter of survival," an official at another local conglomerate said. "In such an environment, companies have to be aggressive and active in protecting their technology and market share, and LG under Koo's leadership is agile in doing so."
An LG Group official said the disputes and lawsuits are an outcome of each respective unit's decision, as their CEOs thought they were necessary for their survival.
"The group lets its respective units' CEOs make important decisions and all of these moves just happened to be come at the same time as competition is heating up across all of our business domains," the official said.