Lee looked up Google, wasn't poached

Tech Culture

Among the interesting tidbits in the case pitting Microsoft against Google and former Microsoft exec Kai-Fu Lee is this nugget: Lee says he went searching for employment at Google.

Apparently seeking to dispel any notion that Google actively poached the former well-paid Microsoft vice president, Lee said this in court documents filed this week:

"I approached Google regarding possible employment in May of 2005 as I understood that Google was interested in establishing a presence in China. That contact ultimately led to an offer of employment which I accepted on July 19, 2005. At no time did Google recruit me as an employee or encourage me to violate any agreement I may have had with Microsoft."

Microsft sued Google and Lee last week in a Washington state court, claiming Lee was breaking a noncompete promise in his employment agreement by joining the search king.

Google and Lee contend, though, that Lee is not doing anything at Google that would compete with what he did at Microsoft, and that the suit is really about scaring other Microsoft employees into staying at their jobs.

Among the court papers filed by Google and Lee this week is a declaration made by Lee. In it, he states that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, in a July 15 meeting, told him, "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."

Lee also outlines that it was he, not Google, who initiated the talks that led to his employment at the company. Google tapped Lee to lead a new product research and development center in China and serve as president of the company's Chinese operations.

Lee's declaration also includes some odd-seeming details about his department from Microsoft: "...on Sunday, July 17, 2005, I retrieved only my personal belongings, including two paintings, pictures, books, food, medicine, tea, plaques, commercial electromagnetic frequency reducing plugs, gifts from my children, and other personal effects from my office at Microsoft."

Despite the legal wrangling in the case--which include Google's request that a California court declare Microsoft's noncompete provision invalid--it seems Lee has begun his new job in earnest. A report this week by People's Daily Online said he was in Beijing discussing Google's tasks in China.

Part of Microsoft's case against Lee centers on its claim that he was "one of the lead executives in charge of developing and implementing Microsoft's business strategies with respect to China."

A blog posted Tuesday from Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer suggested Lee would be an asset to Google in the emerging Asian power: "Lee established Microsoft's Beijing research lab, and I've heard him described as extremely effective in working the system and building relationships in China."

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