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Google asks court to void Lee's Microsoft pact

Search giant asks federal judge to make summary judgment and rule that Microsoft's employment contract violates California law.

Google has asked a federal judge in California to rule that Kai-Fu Lee's contract with Microsoft is unenforceable and that the researcher should be allowed to join Google unfettered by the terms of his employment deal.

The two rivals are locked in a legal dispute over the hiring of Lee. Google announced on July 19 that it was hiring Lee to head up a new China research center. The same day, Microsoft sued Google over Lee's hiring in Washington state court. Google countersued in a California state court, saying that the case should be heard there. Microsoft last month had the California matter moved to federal court in San Jose, Calif.

Kai-Fu Lee
Source: Microsoft
Kai-Fu Lee

Google has now asked that federal court judge to--as a matter of law--rule on Google's behalf without a trial. In court papers filed Friday, Google argued that "this motion for summary judgment is made on the grounds that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that the noncompete clause of Microsoft's employment contract violates California law.

In support of its case, Google argues that Lee is now a California resident, living in Palo Alto. Google said that Lee has obtained phone service in the state, registered to vote and obtained a driver's license. Lee has also "begun paying California state income taxes, including tax on a signing bonus from Google," the search giant said in court papers.

In documents accompanying Google's request, Lee said that although he planned to go to China for Google, he expected to return to California after approximately two years overseas.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake reiterated that Microsoft believes that Washington state court is the proper place for the legal battle to take place.

"Dr. Lee and Google have a legal obligation to honor the agreement Dr. Lee made with Microsoft, and we don't believe that this latest filing will persuade anyone otherwise," Drake said in an e-mail.

A Google representative did not immediately return a call for comment. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)

In July, a Washington judge temporarily barred Lee from performing job duties at Google similar to those which he performed at Microsoft.

The two sides have each outlined a very different picture of Lee. Microsoft has portrayed Lee as a highly paid executive who played a vital role in the company's search and China strategies. Google, meanwhile, says Lee is "not a search expert" and was peripheral to Microsoft's business in China.