Google, Microsoft Personnel Fight Back in Court

UPDATED: Microsoft and Google are scheduled to square off in a Seattle courtroom today over an increasingly heated dispute regarding Google’s hiring of a Microsoft vice president who was under contract with Redmond at the time.

The battle for Kai-Fu Lee, a former vice president with the software giant, underlines a growing animosity between the two companies, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer allegedly pitching such a fit after losing one executive in 2004 that he threatened to “kill Google” over the continued poaching of top brass.

In a sworn statement filed as part of Google’s defense, Mark Lucovsky, a former Microsoft engineer who worked in the Exchange Server group and who joined Google in 2004, paints a scary picture of Redmond’s employee relations.

When Lucovsky told Ballmer he was leaving for Google, he stated, “At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office. Mr. Ballmer then said: “F*ing Eric Schmidt is a f* pussy. I’m going to f* bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f* kill Google.”

“Thereafter,” Lucovsky’s statement continued, “Mr. Ballmer resumed trying to persuade me to stay.”

In an e-mailed statement, Ballmer replied to the charges.

“Mark Lucovsky’s account of our conversation last November is a gross exaggeration of what actually took place,” he said. “Mark’s decision to leave was disappointing, and I urged him strongly to change his mind. But his characterization of that meeting is not accurate.”

Lee has a one-year, non-compete clause in his contract with Microsoft. Redmond is expected to argue that the contract should bar him from working in areas that compete with his former employers.

In July Google announced that it planned to open a product research and development center in China, tapped Lee to lead the operation and serve as president of the company’s Chinese operations. The China R&D center will open in the third quarter of 2005.

After filing in July for violating the non-compete agreement, Redmond won a temporary restraining order barring Lee from working at Google.

However, Google countersued in California district court, claiming that the non-compete clause wasn’t enforceable in California, because the state’s law prohibits contracts that keep people from engaging in lawful work.

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