Lawyers spar at Microsoft-Google hearing

Both sides drift into a variety of areas that seemed tied no more than tangentially to the contractual dispute.

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
3 min read
SEATTLE--Microsoft's lawyer began Tuesday's hearing by reminding the court that the matter at hand is whether to enforce a noncompete agreement that Kai-Fu Lee signed when he joined Microsoft.

At the time, the reminder seemed unnecessary. But by day's end, the clarification seemed downright prescient.

Both sides drifted into a variety of areas that seemed tied no more than tangentially to the contractual dispute over whether Lee should be allowed to join Google or if such a move should be blocked by a noncompete clause in his employment pact with Microsoft.

Even after its own warning that the case was not one of trade secrets, a key Microsoft argument is that Lee sent Google a confidential Microsoft document while still in the software maker's employ. Google, meanwhile, made much over Microsoft's efforts to outsource jobs to China.

Speaking from the witness stand, Lee discussed his responsibilities spearheading an effort to move jobs to China. Lee said he was put in charge of ensuring Microsoft made good on a 2002 pledge that CEO Steve Ballmer made to outsource $100 million worth of jobs over a three-year period.

Lee testified that nearly all of the positions were software testing jobs. In an obvious softball, Lee's lawyer asked whether that experience would be a conflict with his job duties at Google. "I believe Google is trying to hire great people, not to move jobs," Lee said.

In an earlier deposition, Lee is said to have pegged the number of jobs Microsoft was outsourcing at 1,000.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said she could not confirm that job number, but said that some testing work has moved overseas. "We will transfer projects such as testing to places like China and India in order to allow our teams (in Redmond) to work on other projects," she said.

Now, what was the case about again?

Eternal e-mails
If you thought that Microsofties have learned the lesson that e-mails live forever, you'd be wrong.

Both sides were able to make plenty of hay out by dredging up past e-mails.

For its part, Microsoft has made much of the e-mail Lee sent to Google's CEO and founders, in which he touted the fact that he has done "work very related to Google." The software maker says that undermines Google's case that Lee's work for the search maker would be distinct from past efforts.

Meanwhile, Google argues that Microsoft is overstating Lee's work. To bolster its argument, it cites an e-mail exchange between two employees who had worked under Lee and later transferred to the MSN group.

"Reading the brief, it actually appears that (Lee's) assoication with desktop search is a major part (if not the major part) of the suit," one of the workers wrote to the other after Microsoft's suit became public. "From our side that totally makes sense. They had to some how (sic) tie him directly to working on search technology and us coming from his division is probably the best tie in they had. Kai-Fu's probably saying 'I did?' himself."

Slogging through
One of the many tasks that Microsoft's lawyers had to do in the last few weeks was wade through more than 20GB of material on Kai-Fu Lee's Microsoft-issued PC to uncover details about his meetings and Google contacts during his final days with the company.

In one of his few comments during the day, Judge Steven Gonzalez asked Microsoft's lawyer which search engine was used to do the scouring.

"Most of it we did the old fashioned way," said Karl Quackenbush, one of Microsoft's outside lawyers.