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Sat, Jul 30, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Court backs Microsoft in hiring dispute

COMPETITION A Washington judge granted a restraining order preventing Lee Kai-fu from taking a job at Google until a court figures out whether he is betraying Microsoft


A US judge issued an order on Thursday barring a former Microsoft executive from going to work as head of rival Google's planned China research center, according to tech industry reports.

A judge in the western state of Washington granted software giant Microsoft a restraining order preventing Lee Kai-fu (李開復) from putting his talents to work for Google until a court figures out whether Lee is betraying his former employer.

Microsoft has filed a civil suit that contends Lee is violating confidentiality and non-competition agreements he made when he became an executive with the company in 2000. The suit was filed against Lee and Google.

Google has countered in court that neither it nor Lee have done anything wrong under the law in the state of California, where Google has its Silicon Valley headquarters.

"In a shocking display of hubris, Microsoft has rushed into court claiming the entire field of search as its own," Google lawyers argued in a written opposition to the restraining order.

Microsoft demanded an emergency restraining order on the grounds they believe the harm to the software goliath will be profound and irreversible if Lee is allowed to put skills honed at Microsoft to work for Google.

Google hired 43-year-old Lee away from Microsoft on July 5, according to court records. Lee went to work for Microsoft in 1998.

In a sworn statement filed with the court, Lee accused Microsoft of exaggerating his knowledge of company secrets and said that founder Bill Gates told him he'd be sued "because we need to do this to stop Google."

Lee quoted Gates as telling him that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "has been looking for something like this" to use against Internet search icon Google.

Lee contended in court paperwork that Ballmer told him, "Please, don't take it personally. It's not you we are after; it's Google."

Lee's statement contended another Microsoft executive predicted things would be "very unpleasant" for Lee if he took the Google job.

Lee claimed expertise in speech and natural user interface, not computer search, and said his job setting up a Google research center in China will have little in common with what he did while working at Microsoft.

"I have no intent, need, desire or interest in revealing, sharing or using Microsoft trade secrets and I will not do so," Lee said in court paperwork.

"I have no way of knowing whether Google's ultimate research and development efforts will, in some regard, overlap things Microsoft has been doing," Lee conceded.

Lee said he was hired to supervise construction of Google's research center in China and recruit recent college graduates to work there. The center is not expected to reach "critical mass" until September next year, according to Lee.

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