Microsoft sues as Google snags former exec to open China research center

Microsoft is suing one of its former executives hired away by Internet rival Google to run a new research center in China, the US software giant announced Tuesday.

Microsoft revealed the suit as online search giant Google touted plans to tap into the booming Chinese market by opening before October a research and development center to be headed by former Microsoft executive Lee Kai-Fu.

Lee agreed to discuss his new position at Google with AFP, but declined to answer questions about the lawsuit in which Microsoft accuses Lee of breaching employee confidentiality and non-competition agreements.

Lee worked as vice president of Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division before taking a job heading Google's proposed research center in China, Microsoft said in a statement.

"We are asking the Court to require Dr. Lee and Google to honor the confidentiality and non-competition agreements he signed when he began working for Microsoft," the company said.

"As a senior executive, Dr. Lee has direct knowledge of Microsofts trade secrets concerning search technologies and China business strategies."

Lee's position at Google is "focused on the same set of technologies and strategies for a direct competitor in egregious violation of his explicit contractual obligations," Microsoft charged.

Google wants to better connect with computer users in China's rapidly growing economy and to tap into the talents of Chinese students, scientists and engineers, the company's engineering president Alan Eustace told AFP.

"We've been looking at the China market for quite some time," said Eustace, who also declined to discuss the Microsoft suit. "We are very excited about the marketplace."

Google representatives met with government and university officials about establishing a research center.

"Obviously, we have to be able to do business in China and that involves working with local government to make that possible," Eustace said. "We are certainly working with the local government."

Google officials heralded the creation of the center as a sign of strong commitment to cultivating Chinese talent as well as its intent to form alliances with universities and institutes.

"China is a hotbed of innovation and technology right now," Eustace said. "I believe Google has a lot to gain by taking advantage of that."

The Google center in China is part of a company strategy to have research centers worldwide to learn how offerings can be better tailored to different cultures, he said.

It remains to be determined where the center will be located or how large it will be, said Lee. "We are going to have a lot of freedom and flexibility regarding what will be done," said Lee.

"It has always been my goal to make advanced technologies accessible and useful to every user, as well as to be part of the vibrant growth and innovation in China today."

Lee is a computer scientist known for pioneering work in the areas of speech recognition and artificial intelligence.

He took part in the founding of Microsoft Research China in the late 1990s and has also done stints working at computer pioneer Apple.

Some human rights and free-speech advocates have criticized Google, Yahoo and other US firms for purportedly accepting Beijing's efforts to censor Internet content.

Internet sites in China are strongly urged to abide by a code of conduct and self-censor any information that could be viewed by the government as politically sensitive, pornographic or illegal.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders last year said it "deplored" the conduct of Yahoo and Google for "bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship."

Google is headquartered in Mountain View near San Francisco. Its list of global engineering offices includes facilities in Tokyo, Zurich, Bangalore, New York and elsewhere.(AFP)



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