Judge: Google Can't Hire Ex-MS Exec

Microsoft has won the first battle in what is set to be a protracted court case that will pit the company against one of its biggest rivals: Google. A Seattle Superior Court judge has said that Microsoft's fears of leaked trade secrets were fair, and barred Google from hiring a former Redmond executive until a full hearing can be held.

Kai-Fu Lee, a former vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Services division accepted a job with Google on July 19. Lee's new role with the search giant would be as head of the company's new Chinese research and development center.

Judge Steven Gonzalez gave Google and Lee one day to surrender any documents or material he may have obtained while at Microsoft, as well as barring the two parties from discussing anything Lee may have learned during his tenure in Redmond.

Gonzalez also took the somewhat unusual step of slapping Lee on the wrist, saying he could not entice any Microsoft employees to join him at Google.

Microsoft had accused Lee and the search giant of attempting to siphon employees away from the company, however there was no hard evidence of either party doing so.

The judge agreed with Microsoft's filings that Lee does in fact know enough to hurt the company's business, and ruled for the software maker. His ruling will stand until a full hearing is held on September 6.

After the hearing, a full trial is tentatively scheduled for January 9, 2006.

According to court documents, Microsoft may be very worried over Google's future moves and this court case could be the first of several attempts to stop the company in its tracks.

In its filings, Google claimed that Lee was told the suit was part of a competitive strategy. "Kai-Fu, Steve (Ballmer) is definitely going to sue you and Google over this," Gates apparently said to Lee on July 15. "He has been looking for something like this, someone at a VP level to go to Google. We need to do this to stop Google."

Microsoft has declined to respond to the statement directly, saying the issue is not any conversation he had with Gates, but rather what he knows and how that could help Google.

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