Court docs: Ballmer vowed to 'kill' Google

Papers in a case involving Google's hiring of a Microsoft exec say Microsoft's Ballmer vowed to "bury" Google's Eric Schmidt.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
5 min read
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer vowed to "kill" Google in an expletive-laced, chair-throwing tirade when a senior engineer told him he was leaving the company to go work for Google, the engineer claimed in court documents made public on Friday.

The allegation, filed in Washington state court, is the latest salvo in an increasingly nasty court fight triggered when Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee jumped to Google in July in what Microsoft claims is a violation of a one-year, non-compete agreement.

In a sworn statement made public Friday, Mark Lucovsky, another Microsoft senior engineer who left for Google in November 2004, recounted Ballmer's angry reaction when Lucovsky told Ballmer he was going to work for the search engine company.

"At some point in the conversation, Mr. Ballmer said: 'Just tell me it's not Google,'" Lucovosky said in his statement. Lucovosky replied that he was joining Google.

"At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office," Lucovosky recounted, adding that Ballmer then launched into a tirade about Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "I'm going to f***ing bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I'm going to f***ing kill Google." Schmidt previously worked for Sun Microsystems and was the CEO of Novell.

Late Friday, Ballmer issued a statement disputing Lucovsky's declaration. "Mark Lucovsky's account of our conversation last November is a gross exaggeration of what actually took place," Ballmer said. "Mark's decision to leave was disappointing and I urged him strongly to change his mind. But his characterization of that meeting is not accurate."

The Lukovsky declaration is the latest salvo in the heated battle between Google and Microsoft over Google's hiring of Lee. Google has said Microsoft is attempting to scare its employees away from Google.

In the filing made public Friday, Google also said in the filing that if Lee is allowed to join the company before a trial he will not "work or consult in any of the technical areas identified in Microsoft's proposed preliminary injunction. Rather, pending tiral, he will open a product development center in China, and staff it with non-Microsoft personnel."

Meanwhile, in separate court documents also made public Friday, Microsoft said e-mails that Kai-Fu Lee sent to Google executives bolster its case that the researcher is seeking to violate his employment contract by taking up a position as head of the search giant's China efforts.

According to the filing, Lee sent a May 7 e-mail to Google's founder and chief executive saying that he had heard Google was opening a China office and expressing interest in discussing the matter. In the e-mail, Lee described himself as "Corporate VP at Microsoft working on areas very related to Google," Microsoft reveals in the court documents.

Microsoft also notes that, in the same e-mail, Lee linked to his corporate biography, which Google has cited as evidence that Lee's work was not directly related to the work he would do at Google.

In addition, the filing for the first time notes the size of Lee's pay package from Google. Microsoft says the search company agreed to compensation "worth in excess of $10 million, including a $2.5 million cash 'signing bonus' and another $1.5 million cash payment after one year, a package referred to internally at Google as 'unprecedented.'"

The document is part of Microsoft's argument as to why a judge should issue a preliminary injunction preventing Lee from taking a position at Google that would compete with his work at Microsoft until a trial can be held in the case. A hearing on the injunction request is planned for Tuesday in King County Superior Court in Seattle. The judge hearing the case has already granted Microsoft's request for a temporary restraining order preventing Lee from doing such work for Google until Tuesday's hearing.

Plans by Google to hire Lee sparked an immediate legal battle between the two companies, which have increasingly emerged as one another's top competitors. The search company announced on July 19 that it was hiring Lee to head a new China research center, with Microsoft immediately suing to block the move.

Google filed a countersuit in California court to invalidate the pact with Microsoft. That case has been moved to federal court in San Jose.

Microsoft's request for the injunction was filed some time ago, but only made public on Friday after both sides had an opportunity to redact confidential information.

A representative for Microsoft did not comment beyond the filing. A Google representative was not immediately available for comment. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)

In the latest documents, Microsoft also charges that Lee began advising Google on China recruiting and China strategy while he was still working on those issues for Microsoft.

"In early June 2005, Dr. Lee engaged in active e-mail correspondence with Google employees...regarding specific candidates that Google was considering--or candidates Dr. Lee wanted them to consider--for Google's China R&D facility," Microsoft said in the filing. "Dr. Lee gave detailed feedback and Google acted on his recommendations."

The filing cites examples of Lee's work on Microsoft's China strategy, including a white paper titled "Making it in China: strategic recommendations for Microsoft." The software maker said it was "surprised and disappointed" to learn that Lee had forwarded an edited version of that paper to Google on June 7, while he was still a Microsoft employee. The version he sent, the Windows maker said, removed the "Microsoft Confidential" notation as well as credit to other Microsoft contributors and the chapter entitled "recommendations for Microsoft."

Microsoft also said in the filing that Lee also "advised Google on the possibility of recruiting candidates in China from Microsoft" noting that Intel and Microsoft were the best opportunity to get technological leads for projects, but that recruiting from both would be difficult. Microsoft also cites an e-mail response Lee got from Google Vice President Omid Kordestani, in which the Google executive writes that "it was nice talking to you and learning about your insights into a successful approach to Google's operations in China."