Microsoft Corp. is suing former vice president Kai-Fu Lee for violating his confidentiality and non-compete agreement by agreeing to head up Google Inc.'s new research center in China, the world's largest software maker said on Tuesday.
Search engine leader Google, which is going head-to-head with Microsoft in online search and services, said it would open its new facility in China later this year to attract computer science researchers and develop new technologies.
Microsoft tapped Lee in 1998 to establish a research and development center in Beijing. Google said it has not decided on a final location in China for its new research center.
Lee, a former Carnegie Mellon University researcher, who previously worked for Apple Computer Inc. later moved to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington to become the company's vice president responsible for developing speech recognition and other interactive technologies for computers.
"In his work at Microsoft, Dr. Lee has direct knowledge of key trade secrets about our search technology, our search strategies and our business plans in China," said Tom Burt, Microsoft's vice president of litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court in Washington state on Tuesday against Lee and Google, seeks to have the confidentiality and non-compete agreement enforced.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it reviewed Microsoft's claims and considers them baseless.
"We will defend vigorously against these meritless claims and will fully support Dr. Lee," Google spokesman David Krane said in an e-mailed statement.
Microsoft, seeing Google as an increasing threat to its MSN Internet division, began building its own search engine in 2003 to compete against Google.
Google, on the other hand, has been expanding its technology into areas that could threaten Microsoft's online business and potentially its core Windows operating system.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.