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Originally published July 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 29, 2005 at 7:30 AM

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Microsoft gets win in Google job fight

A former Microsoft executive who left the company this month for Google can't begin the work he was hired to do until another round of legal...

Seattle Times technology reporter

A former Microsoft executive who left the company this month for Google can't begin the work he was hired to do until another round of legal arguments in September, a King County Superior Court judge ordered yesterday.

Judge Steven Gonzalez granted Microsoft's request for a temporary restraining order to keep Kai-Fu Lee, the highest-ranking executive at Microsoft to leave for Google, from working on anything that competes with what he did at Microsoft.

The judge said Microsoft had shown that its business could be hurt if Lee, who was hired by the search-engine leader to open a research center in China, takes the post before the legal issues are settled.

Microsoft sued Google and Lee, a former Microsoft corporate vice president, earlier this month after his departure was announced, claiming that Lee signed a contract in 2000 saying he couldn't do work that competes with Microsoft for a year after leaving.

Google argued that Lee's work wouldn't directly compete with his work at Microsoft. Lee had very little to do with search at Microsoft anyway, Google said.

Microsoft disagreed, saying Lee attended a company retreat in March in which executives discussed plans for competing with Google.

Both companies agree Lee has worked on speech and natural-language technologies at Microsoft, but Microsoft argued that those areas are tied to search as well.

In his order, Gonzalez banned Lee from accepting a job that involved computer search and speech technologies, or business strategies, planning and development with respect to search technologies in China.

The order also broadly restricts Lee and Google from using any confidential Microsoft information.

Gonzalez ordered Microsoft to post a $1 million bond in case the court later finds Lee and Google were wrongfully restricted by his decision.

The two sides will return to court Sept. 6 to argue whether the ban on Lee's work should be continued until the trial, tentatively scheduled for January.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief lawyer, said it was too early to say if the companies could settle the case before trial.

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Google said it was gratified Gonzalez ruled only that Lee cannot do anything competitive with his work at Microsoft.

"As we have said all along, we have no intention of having him do that," said Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel at Google.

After the ruling, Google didn't say how Lee's job duties would be affected between now and September.

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