Ruling in a case that exposed the behind-the-scenes animosity between two high-tech titans, a state judge cleared the way Tuesday for a former Microsoft Corp. executive to perform some of the tasks rival Google Inc. had hired him to do.
King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez is still barring Kai-Fu Lee from doing work on products, services or projects he worked on at Microsoft, including computer search technology, pending a trial set for January. While the judge said that a noncompete agreement Lee signed with Microsoft is valid, he said recruiting and staffing a Google center in China would not violate that agreement.
Lee cannot set budget or compensation levels or define the research that Google will do in China, but he can hire people to work there, the judge said.
“The importance of this is that it allows me to do my job,” he said. “Starting today, I’m going to walk into Google and start work.”
Microsoft deputy general counsel Tom Burt said his company also was pleased with the judge’s order because it limits what tasks Lee can perform. Burt argued that Google hired Lee to be the president of its Chinese operations, citing a press release that Google issued at the time.