Microsoft, Google Face Off in Court

Attorneys for Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. faced off in court on Tuesday over whether an executive familiar with the world's largest software maker's plans in China could begin working for the search engine leader.

Microsoft is asking King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez for a preliminary injunction to stop former vice president Kai-Fu Lee from working for Google ahead of a trial scheduled for January 2006.

Microsoft attorney Jeffrey Johnson argued in court that Lee, who built Microsoft's Beijing research and development center, is violating a non-compete contract that he signed with Microsoft because he has intimate knowledge of Microsoft's operations in China, its competitive strategy against Google and recruiting efforts.

"Dr. Lee should live up to his promise," said Johnson.

Microsoft played video depositions of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and other executives detailing Lee's involvement in planning China-related strategies and businesses.

Microsoft and Google are increasingly becoming the technology industry's most visible competitors, as they face off in the Web search arena and seek to hire top software engineering talent.

Google said that Lee decided to leave Microsoft and work for Google to head up their China operations because he was frustrated with Microsoft's lack of action and commitment in China.

"He tried, but they (Microsoft executives) were completely uninterested in what he had to say about China," said Steve Langdon, a Google spokesman.

The hearing, which will last another day, is the latest move by the Redmond, Washington-based software giant to stop Lee from working at Google while he is still obligated by the one-year non-compete agreement, which went into effect when Lee quit Microsoft in mid-July.

Microsoft won a temporary restraining order against Lee and Google in July. Google, based in Mountain View, California counter-sued in its home state last month to block Microsoft's lawsuit.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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