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Microsoft vs Google: Round 1 Goes to Redmond; Restraining Order On Dr Kai-Fu Lee

Judge Steven Gonzalez Bans Lee From Working on Speech and Natural-language Technologies

King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez ruled yesterday that while former Microsoft employee Dr Kai-Fu Lee (pictured) may join Google, Inc., he cannot do for Google anything competitive with his work at Microsoft. The two sides are still arguing about whether that effectively precludes him from working on search, which would presumably reduce his usefulness to Google - who hired Dr Lee to head up its Chinese R&D operations.

Microsoft's argument was that accepting such a position violates the non-competition promise Lee made when he was hired as an executive in 2000. "This lawsuit is a charade," Google countered, in court documents filed before the hearing in Seattle.

"Accepting such a position violates the non-competition promise Lee made when he was hired as an executive," Microsoft said when it announced its suit against  Lee for accepting the post of R&D director in Google's R&D center in China.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee in the middle of a corporate legal dispute
between Microsoft and Google.

According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, Microsoft said at the time: "As a senior executive, Dr Lee has direct knowledge of Microsoft's trade secrets concerning search technologies and China business strategies. He has accepted a position focused on the same set of technologies and strategies for a direct competitor in egregious violation of his explicit contractual obligations."

Recently, Google was in the headlines for a less controversial recruitmen when they brought on board former eBay research director Louis Monier.

“The main reason for me to leave is that eBay does not absorb innovation at the pace I enjoy," said Monier, back in June, "and its focus is narrower than Google."

"So rather than chewing on variations of e-commerce for the next few years," Monier continued, "I’m very tempted to play with radically new stuff: satellites images, machine translation, ways to extract knowledge from giant bodies of data."

When asked in an interview exactly why he was jumping ship and leaving eBay for Google, Monier told a reporter:

"Frankly...I’m dying to peek under the hood and see the infrastructure they have created. For someone like me, it’s the ultimate Christmas toy.”

It is not known whether Dr Kai-Fu Lee has a similar motivation. Nor is it yet established who contacted whom, unlike the Monier hiring, where Monier himself said, on record: "I have known Larry and Sergei forever, I want to believe that I had a standing invitation. All it took was one e-mail to Larry."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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