In a simmering
legal tussle, Google, the Internet search company,
is asking a judge to reject Microsoft's bid to keep a
prized research engineer from taking a job at Google,
saying that Microsoft filed a lawsuit to frighten other
workers from defecting.
Microsoft sued the research engineer, Kai-Fu Lee,
and Google last week, asserting that by taking the Google
job, Lee was violating an agreement that he signed in
2000 barring him from working for a direct competitor
in an area that overlapped with his role at Microsoft.
"This lawsuit is a charade," Google said
in court documents filed before a hearing on Wednesday
in Seattle. "Indeed, Microsoft executives admitted
to Lee that their real intent was to scare other Microsoft
employees into remaining at the company."
last week, seeking to override Microsoft's noncompete
provision so that 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," Google
said in court documents.
The judge in the case, Steven Gonzalez of Superior Court,
who heard arguments in the case on Wednesday, said
he expected to issue a ruling on Thursday.
include details about a conversation Lee had with
Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates, suggesting that his
company was becoming increasingly concerned about Google's
siphoning of talent, and perhaps intellectual property.
Lee said Gates told him in a meeting on July 15,
referring to Microsoft's chief executive, Steven Ballmer:
"Kai-Fu, Steve 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 need to
do this to stop Google."
A Microsoft spokeswoman, Stacy Drake, declined to comment
on Gates's 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 said Google did not recruit him and had not encouraged
him to violate any agreement he had with Microsoft.
Microsoft countered that Lee's job with Google
gave him ample opportunity to leak sensitive technical
and strategic business secrets. Microsoft noted that Lee
attended a confidential, executive-only briefing in March,
which was labeled "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
to establish its 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, 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
it had paid Lee well in exchange for his promises
to honor confidentiality and noncompete agreements.
The company said that Lee made more than $3 million
during nearly five years at its headquarters in Redmond,
Washington, and that he earned more than $1 million last
Microsoft asserts that there is "an extremely close
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 recognition.
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