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Microsoft was successful in obtaining a temporary injunction preventing Dr. Kai-Fu Lee from taking over as the head of Google’s new research center in China. The ruling, issued by Kings County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez forbids Lee from working on Google projects or research relating to search technologies, natural language processing or speech technologies, and business strategies that would be “competitive” with fields he studied while at Microsoft. Part of Gonzalez’s ruling also prohibits Dr. Lee from disclosing trade secrets or proprietary information learned while he was employed at Microsoft. It also forbade Google from “attempting to induce” Microsoft employees to work for Google. Read more…

Back in the good old days, headhunters never got sued. If a lawyer went nuts on you, there was always a good shrink available. Being a headhunter meant never having to say you were sorry. Corporate law has evolved substantially since then.

Today, Google is getting sued for headhunting one of the brightest techno-brains in China, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee . Actually, Dr. Lee was in Redmond Washington, working for Microsoft when the deal went down and Microsoft is pretty pissed about it all.

In a press release issued around noon on Tuesday, Google reported it had hired one of China ‘s most respected computer pioneers, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee. Problem is, until Monday afternoon anyway, Dr. Lee was the corporate VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Services Division. That got Gate’s goat, big time.

Hours before Google issued the press release, Microsoft issued suit in a Washington State court against Dr. Lee and his new employer, citing breach of contract. They are seeking an injunction to prevent Dr. Lee from taking his new position as head of Google’s China Division.

“Accepting such a position with a direct Microsoft competitor like Google violates the narrow non-competition promise Lee made when he was hired as an executive,” Microsoft said in its lawsuit, as quoted today in a ZDnet report . “Google is fully aware of Lee’s promises to Microsoft, but has chosen to ignore them, and has encouraged Lee to violate them.”

The suit seeks monetary damages for the loss of Dr. Lee’s services as well as injunctive measures to prevent Dr. Lee from violating a narrowly worded non-competition agreement or sharing information Microsoft claims as its intellectual property. The lawsuit states that Dr. Lee was for some time, “responsible for overall development of the MSN Internet search application.”

Calling Dr. Lee’s move a “particularly egregious” violation of a non-competition agreement that was part of his contract with Microsoft, Deputy General Counsel, Tom Burt said Dr. Lee “…has access to sensitive information, to trade secrets about our search technology and business plans and our China business strategies.”

Google is planning to open a massive Research and Development Centre in China by the end of October. With decades of investment in science and engineering, and many of the world’s top technical universities, China is seen by most in the industry to be the leading IT nation in the near future. It also has an economy developing at 9% or more per year, three times faster than most G8 economies.

The press release noted these factors stating, “China , with its thriving economy and excellent universities, is home to many outstanding computer scientists and engineers. By establishing an R&D center in China , Google is making a strong commitment to attracting and developing Chinese talent, as well as partnering with local universities and institutes. The selection of Dr. Kai-Fu Lee to lead this important operation underscores Google’s commitment to building a successful Chinese product research and development center and to expanding its international business operations.”

Google VP of Engineering, Alan Eustace said, “The opening of an R&D center in China will strengthen Google’s efforts in delivering the best search experience to our users and partners worldwide. Under the leadership of Dr. Lee, with his proven track record of innovation and his passion for technology and research, the Google China R&D center will enable us to develop more innovative products and technologies for millions of users in China and around the world.”

As for Dr. Lee himself, apparently he informed his boss at Microsoft on July 5 th that he wasn’t coming back from a sabbatical he had planned and that he was in discussions with Google about China. In yesterday’s press release, Google spokespersons quoted Dr. Lee saying, “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. Joining Google uniquely enables me to pursue both of my passions and I look forward to returning to China to begin this exciting endeavor.”

This is bound to get more interesting as time develops.

What is happening behind the scenes at Google these days? Trying to figure out exactly what is happening behind the closed doors of the Googleplex is much like trying to get solid information on the Illuminati. One can find lots of rumour and conjecture but there are a very limited number of individuals willing or qualified to offer a credible quote. For obvious reasons, Google does not allow its employees to talk to the media without first obtaining several levels of permission. Read more…

It was only a matter of time before someone took the problems associated with click-fraud to court. In February, a group of advertisers quietly filed a lawsuit against Google, Yahoo, Time Warner (AOL), Ask Jeeves, Disney, Lycos, LookSmart and FindWhat. Read more…

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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Controversy Dogs Google

The first three months of 2005 is turning out to be a cursed quarter for the PR department at the Googleplex. This week, the public spotlight focused on Google News for two less-than-honourable mentions. Read more…

Several forums are tackling the Autolinks feature in Google’s new Toolbar v3(Beta). It’s getting ugly friends.

Accusations of spyware, adware and malware are springing up beside the obvious comparisons with Microsoft’s previous abuses of their powerful position.

Over at Jill Whalen’s HighRankings Forums, the discussion turns towards class action lawsuits.

Meanwhile, over at CNet, reporter Stephanie Olsen speculated on Google’s hiring of former MS product manager (and the original author of the failed MS Smart Tag auto-link software) and the fact that Microsoft continues to hold the patent on auto-linking.

Even in the quiet retirement community of Palm Springs the local daily, The Desert Sun raises questions about Google Maps (a main feature of Google autolink) and a person’s right to privacy. After writing such an angry article, one wonders what will happen if the author Cindy Uken starts to dig a little deeper.

Google is flirting with the event horizon of a massive PR nightmare.

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Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

Google Legal Battle Threatens SERPs

Google is being sued by American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc. for trademark infringement. The case, which was originally thought to only involve AdWords bids on terms associated with American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc., has now grown to cover the traditional (free) results produced by Google. According to EWeek, David Rammelt of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, the Chicago based firm representing American Blind and Wallpaper Factory Inc. said, “Our concerns are not just limited to the paid, sponsored links. We are seeing competitors listed when our trademarks are being typed verbatim.” Terms that concern Rammelt include, “American Blinds” and “American Blind”. Oddly enough, the litigant appears in the Top10 under the keyword phrase “American Blind”, just below sites dedicated to visually impaired Americans and Helen Keller.

Chances are, Google will win this suit, at least as it relates to the traditional (free) listings. The case does open a dangerous can-of-worms however as search terms and target keyword phrases may need to be rethought to avoid any trademark infringement in the future. An interesting feature of this case may be the public airing of Google’s ranking algorithms as Rammelt and his team dissects Google’s ranking methods in open court. The SEO community will likely watch this one very closely.

The success of the litigant would make search engines as we know them, sort of useless. Imagine a search tool being able to guarantee corporate rivals creating similar products could not appear under related keyword phrases if one of the corporations owned trademark rights to those keywords and phrases. A note to greedy lawyers, Just do it.

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