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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Google Wins Microsoft Case

SEATTLE -- A Washington state judge, ruling in a case that exposed the behind-the-scenes animosity between two high-tech titans, said that a former Microsoft executive may begin working at Google in a limited capacity.

Kai-Fu Lee remains barred from doing work on products, services or projects he worked on at Microsoft, including computer search technology, pending a trial set for January. King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez said Tuesday that a noncompete agreement Lee signed with Microsoft, prohibiting him from doing similar work for a rival for one year, was valid.

But Gonzalez said recruiting and staffing a Google center in China would not violate that agreement. Although Lee cannot set budget or compensation levels or define the research that Google will do in China, Gonzalez said, he can hire people to work there.

"The importance of this is that it allows me to do my job," Lee said. "Starting today, I'm going to walk into Google and start work."

Tom Burt, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, said his company also was pleased because Gonzalez's order limits what tasks Lee can perform. Burt notes a Google press release describing Lee's hiring as president of Google's Chinese operations.

"You don't go to be the president of a research center and get paid $10 million to go interview undergraduates," Burt said. "This makes him the highest-paid human resources director in history."

The trial in January is expected to more fully determine the rights that Lee and the companies have under the noncompete agreement. By the time the trial arrives, that restriction will only be in effect for another six months.

Lee, who had worked at Microsoft since 2000 and oversaw development of its MSN Internet search technology, including desktop search software rivaling Google's, left in July to lead Google's expansion into China.