A flurry of reports have Google’s newest executive, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, the center of a non-compete lawsuit controversy, beginning his duties on schedule in Beijing despite squawking from Microsoft’s camp. The hotly contested president of Google China had a busy day Monday, working to get the research center off the ground.
Forty-three-year-old Dr. Lee sent Microsoft into a tizzy last week after accepting a job with one the software giant’s major competitors. Microsoft filed suit against Google and Lee claiming a violation of a non-competition clause in Lee’s contract.
Dr. Lee joined Microsoft in 1998 to spearhead the startup of an academic research lab in China, a position similar to what Google hired him for.
After spending two years in China, Lee returned to the US where he worked primarily on speech recognition technology.
Though Lee desired to return to China, Microsoft had no openings at his level to offer at the venue. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Lee approached Google, who hired him to head up their new research and development center opening in the third quarter.
Lee and Google both seemed surprised by Microsoft’s legal action and denied any violation of non-compete agreements barring Lee from working in similar positions at companies considered to be in direct competition with Microsoft for one year.
Microsoft claims Lee is privy to trade secrets, especially regarding MSN’s search technology, and was "one of the main architects of Microsoft's business strategies in China."
But Dr. Lee is going about his duties undeterred according to Todd Bishop:
A Seattleite in Beijing e-mailed me this morning to alert me to Lee's visit and describe some of the additional coverage:
Kai-Fu Lee made a whirlwind visit to Beijing, interviewing candidates for Google's new research center. He talked to reporters briefly ... . He said he approached Google in May on his own after learning [Google CEO] Eric Schmidt -- an old acquaintance -- planned to set up a research operation in China. Since he was not involved in search engine research at MSFT, he didn't think his moving over to Google violated his non-compete clause. Earlier, Lee, who is greatly admired in China, posted a personal message on Blogchina about how he looked forward to starting up the new research institute.
Lee has a reputation of being an excellent networker and is described as being extremely effective at building relationships in China.
His move to Google, he says, was in accordance with moral norms and law, and that he did not violate the non-compete provisions of his Microsoft contract.
According to the People’s Daily online, Google has not officially set up its China business model. Before that can be established, Lee said he had to familiarize himself with Google’s culture and prepare his family for the move to China.
The new Google employee has been given on major task so far: to employ the most talented professionals for the R&D center.
Lee denied rumors that Google would adopt an agent system for sales, relying primarily on HotSales and CE.NET.CN.