By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer
A former Microsoft Corp. executive who defected to Google Inc. cannot
immediately perform the job Google hired him to do, a judge ruled
Thursday, saying Microsoft has a well-grounded fear that leaked trade
secrets could hurt its business.
Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez granted a temporary restraining
order barring Kai-Fu Lee from working at Google on any product,
service or project similar to those he worked on at Microsoft,
including Internet and desktop search technology.
Google, which hired Lee to lead a research and development center it
will soon open in China, asked for a more specific list of tasks Lee
can and cannot perform. Microsoft agreed to provide the court with a
recommended list by Monday.
In a statement e-mailed after the ruling, Google lawyer Nicole Wong
called the judge's decision "only a temporary measure to maintain the
status quo and to give the court more time to fully consider the
"We are confident that once the judge has done so he will side with
Google and Dr. Lee. Microsoft will not prevail in their intimidation
Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said the ruling would stand until
Sept. 6, the date Gonzalez set for a hearing on a motion for a
preliminary injunction that could make the restrictions on Lee's work
at Google last until the case goes to trial.
"We felt we needed to take this step to protect our sensitive business
information and to ensure that Google and Dr. Lee honor the
confidentiality and noncompetition agreements he made when he started
working here," Drake said.
Gonzalez set the trial for Jan. 9.
Microsoft sued Lee and Google last week, claiming that by taking the
Google job, Lee was violating an agreement he signed in 2000, barring
him from working for a direct competitor in an area that overlapped
with his roles at Microsoft.
Lee and Google, which countersued, say he is not a search expert and
that he had only limited involvement in Microsoft's China operations
since 2000, the year he signed the agreements at the heart of the
Most recently a vice president working on speech recognition in
Microsoft's server and tools division, Lee headed up the creation of
the company's research center in Beijing in the late 1990s and later
worked in the MSN search unit.
Microsoft said it paid Lee handsomely and would not have hired him if
he had not promised to honor confidentiality and noncompetition
agreements. The company said Lee made more than $3 million over nearly
five years, and that he earned more than $1 million last year.
Google claims that Lee has not disclosed any Microsoft secrets, and
that it has repeatedly told Lee not to betray Microsoft's confidence.
In court documents, Google said a conversation Lee had with Microsoft
Chairman Bill Gates suggests that the software company is becoming
increasingly concerned about Google siphoning away talent - and
perhaps intellectual property.
In a July 15 meeting, Lee said, Gates told him, "Kai-Fu, (CEO) Steve
(Ballmer) 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."
Drake earlier declined to comment on Gates' statement directly, saying
that the company's concern is that Lee has knowledge of highly
Microsoft and Google, along with Yahoo Inc., are locked in a fierce
battle to dominate Internet search technology, both online and through
desktop search programs. Google has launched new services, including
e-mail, that compete with Microsoft offerings.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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