Ruling Lets ex-Microsoft Exec Work at Google

Google scored a majority victory in its nasty battle with Microsoft over the hiring of a former Microsoft executive.

A Washington State judge ruled today the hiring can proceed. The only stipulation was that the employee, Kai-Fu Lee, who is slated to head up Google’s research office in China, cannot recruit from Microsoft.

“This ruling clears the way for Dr. Lee to … begin recruiting and building our R&D facility in China,” Steve Langdon, corporate spokesman for Google, told “He’s already making phone calls and will be working in our Mountain View headquarters tomorrow.”

Despite Google’s apparent win on the main point of letting Lee start employment at Google, Microsoft called the ruling a victory in its favor.

“We are pleased with our victory in court today, Microsoft said in a statement. “The court entered an injunction that restricts the work Dr. Lee can do for Google, preventing him from working on speech, natural language and search technologies, as well as setting the overall research and development course for Google China.

“Today’s injunction is broader than the Temporary Restraining Order, which was granted to Microsoft in July and imposes further restrictions on Dr. Lee’s activities in China. The injunction restricts Dr. Lee to limited interviewing and site location activities.”

The statement concluded: “We are gratified that the court found Dr. Lee ‘misled Microsoft’ and misused confidential information, even while he was still employed by Microsoft.”

Google has a different interpretation.

“There are some restrictions, but the ruling basically allows Dr. Lee to do what we’ve wanted him to be able to do,” said Nicole Wong, Associate General Counsel for Google, in a company blog. “The judge said that Microsoft had ‘not sufficiently shown that it has a clear legal or equitable right to enjoin Dr. Lee, pending trial, from establishing and staffing a Google development facility center.”

Microsoft was hoping for a preliminary injunction ahead of the January trial, which would keep Kai-Fu Lee from joining archrival Google.

In its opposition to the preliminary injunction, Google argued Lee wouldn’t be in competition if he went to China to open a Google research lab there, because there’s not much to compete with on Microsoft’s end.

Microsoft sued Lee and Google for violating a non-compete agreement Lee signed when he went to work for Microsoft.

The software giant previously had won a temporary restraining order against Lee’s going to work at Google but today’s ruling removes that restriction.

Google already has said it would limit Lee’s activities to opening a China research center and recruiting Chinese engineers to work there.

Google said that Microsoft’s definitions are too broad. For example, because Microsoft is recruiting in China, it argues that if Lee recruited in China, he’d be competing. Also, Lee recruited for Microsoft’s China lab five years ago as a contractor, not a Microsoft employee.

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