July 28, 2005 5:33 PM PDT

Judge grants Microsoft request in Google case

A judge has temporarily barred a former Microsoft executive hired by Google from performing any duties at the search giant similar to those he performed at Microsoft.

Washington state Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez on Thursday granted Microsoft's request for a temporary restraining order to prevent Kai-Fu Lee from violating his noncompete agreement.

Google announced on July 19 that it had hired Lee to lead a new research and development center in China and serve as president of its Chinese operations. Lee was previously a vice president at Microsoft and played a key role in its operations in China. He also led development of some of its search technologies, Microsoft's lawsuit claims.

The same day that Google announced its new hire, Microsoft sued Lee, claiming he was breaking a one-year noncompete agreement by joining Google. Microsoft also sued Google, accusing it of encouraging Lee to violate promises made to Microsoft. Two days later, Google asked a California court to declare Microsoft's noncompete provision invalid.

High-tech whine
News.com's Charles Cooper says the hiring spat diverts attention from the more serious battle between Microsoft and Google.

Google and Lee claim that Lee would not be doing anything at Google that would compete with work he did at Microsoft, and Lee says he contacted Google and was not recruited.

Specifically, Gonzalez prohibited Lee from working on search technologies, business strategies, planning or development related to the computer search market in China, as well as any other areas he worked in while employed at Microsoft.

Google and Lee were also barred from disclosing or misappropriating any trade secrets or proprietary information obtained while Lee worked at Microsoft and from destroying any documents or data that relate to Lee's employment at the companies. They have one day to hand over any documents or material Lee obtained from Microsoft during his tenure there. The ruling also prohibits Lee from encouraging any Microsoft employees to join Google.

Gonzalez also barred Microsoft from destroying relevant documents and ordered the company to post $1 million security to be used to pay for Google and Lee's costs and damages if it is determined the temporary restraining order was wrongfully granted.

The judge's order set a Sept. 6 hearing on Microsoft's request for a preliminary injunction, which would bar Lee from doing similar work at Google as he did at Microsoft until a verdict is rendered at trial. The temporary restraining order remains in effect until that hearing, the order says.

Separately from the restraining order, the judge scheduled a trial date of Jan. 9, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

With its California request, Google appears to be trying to take advantage of a state rule that frowns on noncompete contract clauses. But the case could pose some sticky jurisdictional questions. Google, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., says Lee resides in California but is supposed to lead the company's operations in China. Microsoft's lawsuit was filed in Seattle, not far from its Redmond, Wash., campus.

Court filings in the case show that Microsoft had paid Lee more than $3 million since August 2000, more than $1 million last year alone. Lee originally joined Microsoft in Asia in 1998 and founded its China research lab. He left and was rehired by Microsoft to work at its Redmond campus.

Google and Lee claim the Microsoft lawsuit is a "charade" meant to frighten other Microsoft workers from jumping to Google, according to court documents. The spat is the latest in an increasingly personal tussle between the companies, which compete in Internet search and other areas.

This isn't the only legal headache for Google. A former Google sales executive has sued the company, alleging that it engaged in job discrimination while she was pregnant with quadruplets.

Google was not immediately available for comment on the temporary restraining order.


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Empire Strikes Back
As a previous Microsoft employee, it should be Microsoft's decision who he gets to work for.

It makes sense, otherwise people would just quit their jobs and work for anyone willy nilly.

I bet some bleedy heart liberal comes along and says that people should be free to leave a company, even if they don't have a grievance.

If this lankmark case for Employer Rights had failed, I forsaw an era where people were free to choose their own futures, regardless of the harm done to their benevolent masters.

I mean supposing the guy stole Microsoft's IP and used it against them.

Thank god this was stopped, or within years Google could have produced a competing search engine and put poor Microsoft out of business..
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If your post was ment as sarcasm please ignore the following.

"As a previous Microsoft employee, it should be Microsoft's decision who he gets to work for."

Restrictions are placed on that ability (even more so in CA) and the employee must sign an agreement.

"It makes sense, otherwise people would just quit their jobs and work for anyone willy nilly."

The only case that is of concern to Microsoft is when the workers new job carries a risk using Microsoft's IP or sharing trade secrets with competitors. I don't think most people would up an quit a job paying as well as Mr.Lee's with a good reason.

"I mean supposing the guy stole Microsoft's IP and used it against them."

That would be a rather expensive mistake on his part and on that of his employer.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Comming soon...Return of the Capitalist
How is it not fair for an employee to work for whoever he chooses? If you believe in capitalistic, free-enterprising, unrestrained competitive economies, then this must hold for employees as well as employers. After all, employers are free to dump employees anytime under the guise of outsourcing, downsizing, layoffs, whatever. It looks like a double standard to me.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Shouldnt M$
have filed this in china if hes going to work there?
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yes and no.
even though both companies are based in the United States they have overseas operations, and China, and its respective market, are notorious for not respecting US intelectual property. As such, I wouldn't be suprised if Google attempted to exploit this by continuing with the hiring and placement of Dr. Lee in China.
Posted by mortis9 (370 comments )
Link Flag
This is just wrong
Doesn't anyone recall when MS put a "Come Work For Us" billboard in front of Borland's headquarters?
So MS thinks they can poach, but nobody else can?
Posted by powerclam (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"So MS thinks they can poach, but nobody else can?"

That statement has been raised elsewhere and I think it's because Borland employees hadn't signed such 'noncompete agreements' that Microsoft could get away with it.
Posted by the.wake (7 comments )
Link Flag
excelent example
this shows M$ activity towards poaching and if they, the borland people, had to sign non-compete shows its hyprocracy in not allowing the jump back

documentation of this is needed
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Link Flag

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