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Google exec rebuffs Microsoft's claims

Kai-Fu Lee, whose hiring sparked a legal battle between Google and Microsoft, tells a court the software giant got his job history wrong.

Kai-Fu Lee, whose hiring by Google prompted a lawsuit by former employer Microsoft, has denied the software giant's claims about his role in its business.

Lee said he worked for a Microsoft subsidiary in China, but denied the company's allegations that he had made any significant contributions to its MSN search technology or even saw the code, according to documents released publicly on Friday by King County Superior Court in Washington state.

Last month, Microsoft sued Lee and Google, charging that Lee had broken a one-year noncompete clause in his contract by accepting a job heading up the search giant's China operations. In its lawsuit, Microsoft claims Lee played a key role in its operations in China and led development of some of its search technologies. A judge has ruled that until at least September, Lee can not perform work at Google that competes with what he did at Microsoft.

The lawsuit reflects how heated the battle for search engine dominance has become, as Microsoft struggles to gain a stronghold in a burgeoning market led by Google and tries to fend off Google's attempts to expand into additional Internet services. The Chinese market also is viewed as the next growth opportunity for Internet companies who are hustling for business there.

In the court documents, filed a week ago, Lee also questioned the jurisdiction of the lawsuit in Washington, saying he is not a resident of Bellevue in that state, as Microsoft claims. In addition, Lee argued, the employment agreement upon which Microsoft bases its claims is void and against public policy under state law in California.

Mountain View-based Google has requested that the case be moved to its home state of California, which has a law that frowns on noncompete agreements.

In the filing, Lee denied that he has broken or will break any enforceable contractual obligations to his former employer and said that neither he, nor the group at Microsoft he was responsible for during his last three years employed there, "made any significant contributions to the MSN Internet search service." He has never seen, and has no relevant technical knowledge of, Microsoft's search engine code and he has never attended a Microsoft Internet search architectural review, according to the court documents.

Lee also denied that the MSN desktop search service was recently developed by his group at Microsoft. He said the user interface and core search engine of MSN desktop search service is different from anything he or his group at Microsoft worked on.

"Because of this lack of a nexus between Dr. Lee's responsibilities at Microsoft and the core search technologies Microsoft has chosen to employ in its search products, and based on statements made by Microsoft's most senior executives, Microsoft's motive in suing Dr. Lee has little or nothing to do with any desire to protect Microsoft trade secrets but rather, is merely part of Microsoft's larger business strategy regarding Google," the filing read.

Lee said he was first hired by Microsoft in 1998, but within three weeks was assigned to a "separate, foreign subsidiary for which he worked until mid-2000." He said he was in a leadership role in what was then called Microsoft Research China, an academic research-based facility.

Around mid-2000, Lee accepted a position as a vice president at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., and moved to the United States with his family to work in Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division, according to Lee's filing.

Lee said he had an "executive leadership role carrying out more senior executives' orders that Microsoft outsource essentially software testing to independent Chinese vendors." He also said he was asked to "provide assistance regarding certain Microsoft-specific organizational and personnel issues that contributed to Microsoft missteps in China."

As an executive, he was exposed to "certain Microsoft strategic information," but he denied having any "exposure to any meaningful or detailed information relevant to Microsoft's current search strategies."

In addition, Lee said his work in his first year at Google will not involve any technologies that compete directly with anything he helped develop for Microsoft. He said he did not help Microsoft China develop strategies against Google after August 2000. He also said that his work at Google will not aid the search company to compete with Microsoft's business in China in a way that would violate any contractual agreement with Microsoft.