Judge stays Google's suit against Microsoft

Google Inc.’s attempt to shift the jurisdiction of a lawsuit over its hiring of a former Microsoft Corp. employee to California could face a setback later Friday, as the judge hearing the case has issued a tentative ruling to stay Google’s request.

The dispute is over Google’s hiring of former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee to head its new research center in China.

Microsoft filed suit in Seattle’s King County Superior Court in July, claiming the hiring was in breach of a noncompete agreement Lee made with the company. Google then countersued Microsoft in California, in an attempt to have the noncompete clause declared invalid. California courts are said to be less supportive of noncompete clauses in employment contracts.

Later Friday, Judge Ronald M. Whyte is due to hear motions relating to Google’s case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Google has filed a motion for summary judgment, while Microsoft has filed to dismiss, transfer or stay the case.

On Thursday afternoon, Judge Whyte made a tentative ruling to stay the case, according to a posting on the court’s Web site. Tentative rulings, an indication of how the judge views the case, are automatically upheld unless the parties to the case inform the court of their intention to dispute them.

Representatives of Microsoft and Google were unable to confirm, early Friday, whether the companies had notified their opposition to the ruling.

The California case may ultimately have little influence on Lee’s employment with Google: the outcome of the Seattle case, where courts view noncompete agreements more favorably, will likely take precedence, according to one legal expert.

If Microsoft wins the Seattle case, then that ruling is also binding in California and could be used as a reason to dismiss Google’s case there, Robin Meadow, a partner in Los Angeles-based law firm Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP, told IDG News Service in August. Since Microsoft filed first, it has the advantage, he said then.

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