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Kai-Fu Lee and Google Settle With Microsoft

Just as the holiday weekend was about to start, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee got a special Christmas present -- an end to his legal problems surrounding his departure from Microsoft and his simultaneous recruitment by search competitor Google.

Thursday, Microsoft and Google quietly disclosed they have settled their legal face-off over last summer’s announcement by the search engine giant that it had hired respected computer researcher and industry senior executive Lee away from Microsoft. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

In a brief statement released late on Dec. 22, Microsoft said it was “pleased” with what it termed “a private agreement that resolves all issues to [all three parties’] mutual satisfaction.”

The tete-a-tetes between the two industry heavyweights began in late July when, immediately following news of Lee’s departure, Microsoft sued both Lee and Google, claiming breach of Lee’s noncompete agreement as well as theft of trade secrets.

Google won the first round in September when King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez of Seattle lifted part of a temporary injunction granted to Microsoft in July, thus freeing Lee to start work at Google. In October, however, a federal judge in California declined to hear Google’s countersuit asking to invalidate Lee’s contract with Microsoft until after the Washington state suit was completed.

The settlement means that Lee can continue with the job he was hired to do for Google, to found a research lab for them in China and to be president of the company's growing Chinese operations.

Lee joined Microsoft in 1998 as managing director of Microsoft Research, China, and staffed and established the company’s Beijing labs. Previous to that he was president of Cosmo Software, Silicon Graphics’ multimedia software business unit.

Lee also spent six years at Apple Computer where he was vice president of that company’s interactive media group. During his tenure there, his group developed QuickTime, QuickDraw and other technologies. Prior to Apple, Lee was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, where he developed the first speaker-independent continuous speech-recognition system. Although U.S.-educated, Lee is originally from Taiwan and speaks fluent Chinese.

In 2000, Lee moved from Beijing to Redmond and became corporate vice president of Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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