By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer
In a simmering legal tussle, Google Inc. is asking a judge to reject
Microsoft's bid to keep a prized research engineer from taking a job
at the Internet search company, saying the software titan filed its
lawsuit to frighten other workers from defecting, or making trouble.
Microsoft Corp. sued Kai-Fu Lee, one of its former executives, and
Google last week, claiming that by taking the Google job, Lee was
violating an agreement he signed in 2000 barring him from working for
a direct competitor in an area that overlapped with his role at
"This lawsuit is a charade," Google said in court documents filed
before a Wednesday hearing in Seattle. "Indeed, Microsoft executives
admitted to Lee that their real intent was to scare other Microsoft
employees into remaining at the company."
Google countersued last week, seeking to override Microsoft's
noncompete provision so it can retain Lee.
"In truth, Kai-Fu Lee's work for Microsoft had only the most
tangential connection to search and no connection whatsoever to
Google's work in this space," the Mountain View, Calif.based company
said in court documents.
Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez heard arguments in the case in
Seattle on Wednesday, and said he expects to issue a ruling Thursday.
Google's filings include details about a conversation Lee had with
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, suggesting that the software company is
becoming increasingly concerned about Google siphoning away talent --
and perhaps intellectual property.
In a July 15 meeting, Lee said, Gates told him, "Kai-Fu, (CEO) Steve
(Ballmer) is definitely going to sue you and Google over this. He has
been looking for something like this, someone at a VP level to go to
Google. We have to stop Google before this gets worse."
Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake declined to comment on Gates'
statement directly. "Our concern here is the fact that Dr. Lee has
knowledge of highly sensitive information both of our search business
and our strategy in China," she said.
Lee claims that Google didn't recruit him and has not encouraged him
to violate any agreement he had with Microsoft.
Microsoft counters that Lee's job with Google gives him ample
opportunity to leak sensitive technical and strategic business
secrets. Microsoft noted that Lee attended a confidential,
executive-only briefing in March, dubbed "The Google Challenge."
"In short, Dr. Lee was recently handed Microsoft's entire Google
competition 'playbook,'" Microsoft said.
Lee joined Microsoft in August 2000, after he helped establish the
company's research center in China. At one point, Microsoft said, he
was in charge of the company's work on MSN Search.
Microsoft and Google, along with Yahoo Inc. are locked in a fierce
battle to dominate search, both online and through desktop search
programs. Google has begun offering new services, including e-mail,
that compete with Microsoft offerings.
Microsoft said it paid Lee well in exchange for his promises to honor
confidentiality and noncompete agreements. The company said Lee made
more than $3 million during nearly five years in Redmond, and that he
earned more than $1 million last year.
Microsoft claims there is "an extremely close nexus" between the work
Lee did at Microsoft and what he will be doing at Google.
Google argued otherwise, insisting that Lee is not a search expert and
noting that his most recent work at Microsoft was in speech
On the Net:
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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