SEATTLE (AP) _ A judge has temporarily barred a former Microsoft executive from performing his job at Google, saying Microsoft has a well-grounded fear that leaked trade secrets could hurt its business.
Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez granted Microsoft Corp.'s request for a temporary restraining order Thursday to prohibit Kai-Fu Lee from performing any duties at the search giant that are similar to those he performed at Microsoft.
``We needed to take this step to protect our sensitive business information and to ensure that Google and Dr. Lee honor the confidentiality and noncompetition agreements he made when he started working here,'' Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said.
The judge's ruling will stand until a Sept. 6 hearing, she said.
Google Inc. hired Lee to lead a research and development center it will soon open in China. The company said Lee has not disclosed any Microsoft secrets and has filed a counter lawsuit against the software giant.
Microsoft and Google, along with Yahoo Inc., are locked in a fierce battle to dominate Internet search technology, both online and through desktop search programs.
In court documents, Google said a conversation Lee had with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates suggests the software company is becoming increasingly concerned about Google siphoning away talent _ and perhaps intellectual property.
Lee said that in a July 15 meeting, Gates told him, ``Kai-Fu, (CEO) Steve (Ballmer) is definitely going to sue you and Google over this. He has been looking for something like this, someone at a VP level to go to Google. We need to do this to stop Google.''
Drake has declined to comment on Gates' statement directly, saying that the company's concern is that Lee has knowledge of highly sensitive information.
Google attorney Nicole Wong said she was confident the court would eventually side with the search engine. She accused Microsoft of waging an ``intimidation campaign.''
Lee and Google argue that Lee is not a search expert and that he had only limited involvement in Microsoft's China operations since 2000, the year he signed the noncompete agreements.
Lee, most recently a vice president working on speech recognition in Microsoft's server and tools division, headed up the creation of the company's research center in Beijing in the late 1990s and later worked in the MSN search unit.
Microsoft said it would not have hired Lee if he had not promised to honor confidentiality and noncompetition agreements.