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Microsoft Sues Former Exec, Google

Google hired former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee to head China research and development; Microsoft is asking the court to require Lee and Google to abide by Lee's confidentiality and non-compete agreements.

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Google Inc. and a former executive hired by the search giant to head its China research and development center.

The suit filed in Washington State Superior Court in King County asks a court to require Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., and Kai-Fu Lee, former corporate vice president of Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division, to honor the confidentiality and non-competitive agreements Lee signed when he started working for Microsoft.

In a statement announcing the suit, Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., said the legal action was necessary to protect its intellectual property. As a senior executive, Lee had direct knowledge of Microsoft's trade secrets concerning search technologies and China business strategies, the company said.

"(Lee) 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," Microsoft said.

Competition between Microsoft and Google has been heating up as the software giant targets the search advertising market to generate more revenue for its online portal MSN, which ties web search to shopping, entertainment and many other services.

At Microsoft, Lee, an expert in speech recognition and artificial intelligence, was in charge of developing user interfaces that enabled people to interact with computers via natural language. Lee's division also worked on advanced search technologies.

Lee joined Microsoft in 1998, and was founder of Microsoft Research Asia, which the company said has become "one of the best laboratories in the world, with a prolific publication and product transfer record." Lee holds a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor's in computer science from Columbia University.

Earlier on Tuesday, Google issued a news release announcing the hiring of Lee, who was expected to help the company expand its international business operations.

In accepting the position, Lee said he was meeting his goal of making "advanced technologies accessible and useful to every user, as well as to be part of the vibrant growth and innovation in China today,"

"Joining Google uniquely enables me to pursue both of my passions and I look forward to returning to China to begin this exciting endeavor," Lee said in the statement.

The Google suit is not the first time Microsoft has sued former employees. Several years ago, Adam Bosworth, best known at Microsoft for his pioneering work in extensible markup language, and several other executives were forced to resign from CrossGain after Microsoft sued them for allegedly violating their non-compete clauses.

Bosworth, who co-founded CrossGain, later rejoined the company as chief executive. The company was sold to BEA Systems in 2001.

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