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This week in Google

Judge temporarily bars former Microsoft executive hired by Google from performing duties similar to those he did for his ex-employer.

A judge this week temporarily barred a former Microsoft executive hired by Google from performing duties for the search giant similar to those he did for his ex-employer.

Specifically, the Washington state judge granted Microsoft's request for a temporary restraining order to prevent Kai-Fu Lee from violating his noncompete agreement. The judge prohibited Kai-Fu Lee from working on search technologies, business strategies, planning or development related to the computer search market in China, as well as any other areas he worked in while employed at Microsoft.

Kai-Fu Lee
Source: Microsoft
Kai-Fu Lee

Google and Lee were also barred from disclosing or misappropriating any trade secrets or proprietary information obtained while Lee worked at Microsoft and from destroying any documents or data that relate to Lee's employment at the companies.

Microsoft sued Google and Lee last week, claiming Lee was breaking a noncompete promise in his employment agreement by joining Google as head of its new office in China. In court papers this week, Google and Lee condemned Microsoft's lawsuit.

"This lawsuit is a charade," Google and Lee said in court documents. "Indeed, Microsoft executives admitted to Lee that their real intent is to scare other Microsoft employees into remaining at the company."

In another filing this week, Lee claims that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told him in a July 15 meeting: "Kai-Fu, (CEO) Steve (Ballmer) is definitely going to sue you and Google over this. He has been looking for something just like this, someone at a VP level to go to Google. We need to do this to stop Google."

The ongoing legal spat is a reminder that "poaching" of top employees is alive and well. But it's risky business in an era of employment agreements with noncompete clauses and other restrictions, experts say.

Tim Farrelly, president of San Francisco-based recruiting firm Coit Staffing, said that compared with the late 1990s, the practice has decreased, with companies becoming more selective. "They're not just taking anybody anymore," he said. "You really have to come to the table with a solid skill set."

There are signs--including a revived start-up scene--that competition for employees in the tech world is heating up. But it's difficult to find hard numbers on the practice of actively tempting workers at rival companies.