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Legal Arguments Can Hurt Tech Job Mobility 255

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-go dept.
camelcai writes "Microsoft's suit against Kai-Fu Lee and Google is based off of the thought that in some circumstances people can't avoid sharing or relying on trade secrets from their former employer when moving to a competitor. In MS's filing it says: 'Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China.' According to CNET, thanks to this increasingly popular legal argument, defectors might face a lawsuit even if they did not sign agreements not to compete or not to disclose confidential information."
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Legal Arguments Can Hurt Tech Job Mobility

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  • by Tontoman (737489) * on Sunday August 28, 2005 @03:44PM (#13422309)
    " . . . though Microsoft says a document it found in the recycle bin of one of Lee's computers indicates Google anticipated a possible lawsuit in hiring Lee."
    Which is worse?
    1. Reading over competitor's job offers using company equipment? Or
    2. forgetting to empty recycle bin and wiping disk before returning company computer?
    • leaving pr0n on your machine! Oops!
    • forgetting to empty recycle bin and wiping disk before returning company computer?

      Does Google really want to hire someone this stupid?

      Alternatively, this sounds like a red herring on Microsoft's part. If they want to know what mail Dr. Lee received, just get it out of their Exchange servers. They probably don't want to admit that they already do this.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:51PM (#13422658)
      Their argument is infuriating. Companies cannot be allowed to have that kind of power over individuals. That's like telling Randy Moss he has to play defence (or perhaps he can't play at all) in oakland because he played offence in minnesota. If you want to block Kai-Fu Lee from working for google, you should have to pay Lee an inconvenience fee for that veto because it isn't like Lee is the only person who wants to work for google. If you are going to block someone from taking one of the most sought after jobs in the IT world, you have to show Lee the money as compensation.

      Did everyone hear that? Show Lee the money!!!

      saltyDOTpeteATslackcrewDOTCOM
      • by Mac Degger (576336) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @11:26PM (#13424577) Journal
        You're marked a 'funny', but what you say is very true.

        A person goes to school/uni/whatever and learns and specialises in subjects he/she finds interesting. Based on that, you get a job, furthering your skills. In the end you become expert/guru at what you do...but now MS is saying that yes they hired him based on his skills...but now no-one else is allowed to hire him for the reasons they did!?!?

        Non-compete clauses are fine and dandy, but they are meant to prevent you stealing a companies clients. The knowledge you accrue, that which makes you /you/, is not something you can unlearn, and even if you could, that would make you pretty useless to any company, because if you unlearnt your major talent/skill, what do you have to offer your (next) employer?

        MS is setting a very dangerous precedent. It's something which not just resembles serfdom, but /is/ serfdom. They should be slapped down, hard.
      • There is no court that will support the position that people are no longer allowed to make a living in their profession simply because they once worked for a company. Although it would not hurt, money alone would not compensate Lee since part of the alure of creative jobs is being able to create. A monthly chack from MS would make Lee a defacto employee of MS even though he had no duties. My opinion is that MS is trying the intimidation-by-lawsuit technique to make other MS employees think twice before a
    • Idiots (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @10:22PM (#13424270) Homepage
      Mr. Lee must be the hottest thing in the world - literally, as valuable as Jesus to the Pope. Because if Google knew in advance there was even the merest possibility of a lawsuit, why would they persue such a person?

      This happens all the time - you interview someplace and they, usually way out of site of the interviewee, find out about possible non-compete complications. If there are any, and I do mean any at all, there is no offer. Period.

      Why would it work any other way? Is someone at Google just trying to spend thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to prove a point? Companies don't do this sort of thing unless there is a real reason behind it.

      And no matter how good Lee is, he isn't worth this. There is another agenda here - and that is what the real story should be.

  • The new serfdom (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @03:46PM (#13422317)


    It's an easy way for a company to pwn its employees.

    • Re:The new serfdom (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mr i want to go home (610257) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:06PM (#13422435)
      I was going to say essentially the same thing - it's not America doesn't practice capitalism, or democracy. The only game in town now is Feudalism.

      It doesn't help that you might own or be paid stocks in a company - the miniscule amount or power you have compared to the largest shareholders doesn't translate to ownership at all. It's like the serf 'owning' his plot - sure, in a literal sense, he owns it. But he can't sell it, can't sell his produce to anyone else, and he sure can't move anywhere else. His whole life belongs to the Feudal lord, 21C, aka, Microsoft/etal.

      I'm truly not trying to start a flame war, or be a troll, and I'm not the only one to think this. Kim Stanley Robertson paints a similar picture in the Mars trilogy. It's worth the read just to see a future vision of politics.

      Scarey stuff.

      • Re:The new serfdom (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jackb_guppy (204733)
        The MS has only one choice...

        Pay the man for NOT using his brain for the rest of his life.

        This will be a great boon for all, you can retire at anytime, becuase the company can not let you work no where else.
      • Re:The new serfdom (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mrchaotica (681592) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:30PM (#13422541)
        And this is what unions are for!
        • Re:The new serfdom (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DigiShaman (671371)
          1. Unions are bad for a free ecconomy as a whole.

          2. We should have to use Unions. But now we have to because "Big Government" can't keep it's god damn hands out of a free ecconomy. In other words, Microsoft can go fuck themselves. This man is free and can walk anytime he wants. Hell, I will say he is free to what he learned from Microsoft and go else where.

          But, this wont happen now that the legel system is so tied in with corporate activities.
          • We should [sic] have to use Unions. But now we have to because "Big Government" can't keep it's god damn hands out of a free ecconomy.

            In an economy increasingly based on "intellectual property" (the very concept requires the government's involvement), you're complaining that the government is involved? Now, I think noncompete clauses are horsecrap, but the government is involved because it's an IP issue. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't have a government-enforced economy without the gov
            • The problem is that the government only recognizes the corporate claim to IP.

              If the government were to recognize humans as the fundamental source of economic activity [slashdot.org], then they would rule to protect the rights of the individual to the skills they've developed.

              There really is no better engine for economic growth than individuals taking the skills they've learned in a big business and starting a small firm that puts those skills to the fullest use.

              As for the company, IMHO, their rights really should be
          • Re:The new serfdom (Score:3, Insightful)

            by timmarhy (659436)
            i can't stand this horseshit about "free" markets and ecnomies. i'll say this once more for people THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE MARKET!!!! even if we abolished governments tommrow, you still have the problem of large multinational companies fixing prices because they are the biggest fish and no one can stand up to them. i can't see anything good coming out of a free market, there is no protection for consumers or employees. it's a fools dream that there can't be any regulating bodies beeing the game fai
          • Re:The new serfdom (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mrchaotica (681592)
            Unions are bad for a free ecconomy [sic] as a whole.
            Then again, unions would be unnecessary in a free economy, too. But we don't have a free economy, as you so eloquently described. That being the case, the only course of action I can see is to fight back, and given the level of corruption we're dealing with, the only way to do so is to unionize.
        • I say, with smug snottiness and undeserved self-satisfaction, that Unions are bad for the economy and bad for workers because they rob employees of any motivation to do better work, and it goes against the Christian ideas of capitalism and unfettered free trade...also, their campaigns for workers rights and fairness give plant workers better salaries and it is more difficult as an employer to coerce their wives into trading sex for their husband's privilege of keeping his job.
          • ...it is more difficult as an employer to coerce their wives into trading sex for their husband's privilege of keeping his job.

            Screw that, under the New Feudal system they can bring back the "droit de siegneur" - the CEO gets to have sex with your new spouse on your wedding night.
      • Re:The new serfdom (Score:5, Interesting)

        by h4rm0ny (722443) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:30PM (#13422547) Journal

        You don't just have to look to the future for this - you can look to the past also. What we see existing in potential here are similar to the medieval guilds. European guilds in the middle ages were very protective of their areas of expertise and raised Hell for outsiders who dared to compete (assuming they got access to the knowledge and skills they needed in the first place).

        The modern view of the guilds tends to be very critical - they stopped people earning a living unless they were members?"

        However, it's very similar to the situation that this would logically lead to - locked into a profession; and Heaven help you if you loose your place in the organization because with this sort of legal precedent, the threat of being sacked from a corporation becomes even more powerful.


        For those who are interested in the guilds in history, it might be worth noting the following:

        • They began as business alliances that through their increasing wealth eventually brought into law their privelleged right to a monopoly on certain areas. Sounds familiar?
        • They used their influence in Europe to choose local leaders, dissolve town councils that interfered with them, etc. Sound familiar?
        • They were frequently criticised for interfering with free trade and innovation. Sound familiar?
        • One of their best known critics was the arch-prince of Capitalism, Adam Smith. Well, Adam Smith is dead, but I believe he would have found modern corporate practices like this to be just as anti-capitalistic as the guilds.

    • Any time I hear stories like this I think of the so-called right to work laws, which really don't give a person any new rights to work at all. They don't guarantee hours. They don't prevent the employer from asking the employee to sign thier human rights away prior to employment. They don't prevent employee from being fired for silly reasons. All they do is prevent unions from getting dues while still requiring the union to represent the employee. Classic coservative US greed. Wanting something for no
  • 'Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China.'

    Can someone translate this please?
    • by tepples (727027)

      "Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain"

      It means that one Lee is in a new job, he can't always prevent himself from disclosing Microsoft trade secrets.

      "in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China."

      Lee would be tempted to

    • by wbren (682133) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @03:54PM (#13422368) Homepage
      'Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China.'


      Can someone translate this please?
      Translation: All Your Base Are Belong To Us, Kai-Fu Lee.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      La conduite de la lie menace de révéler ou la lie inévitablement révélera les secrets commerciaux de Microsoft à Google et/ou à d'autres pour le sien et/ou le gain financier de Google au cours de travailler pour améliorer les produits de recherche de Google qui concurrencent Microsoft, et au cours d'établir et d'établir la présence de Google en Chine pour concurrencer les efforts de Microsoft en Chine.
    • Daddy, evil google stole my scientist!
    • 'Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China.'

      He hasn't done it yet.
      He may never do it.
      But because he could possibly do it sometime in the unknowable future he's screwed now for life for w

      • Um... no, he is prevented for the short term (usualy 6-24 months), and this was his choice when he signed on at Microsoft and signed the non-compete claus.
  • Simple solution. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday August 28, 2005 @03:55PM (#13422372)
    The old employer pays the person as much as the new employer was offering for a year (or however long the non-compete contract is) and puts up money equal to 10x that in case the new company doesn't want the employee after the year is up and he has to find a new job.

    Anything less is indentured servitude (a form of slavery).

    If the companies want to play that game, then they should be financially responsible.

    • WTF? That's just indentured servitude (a form of slavery) in reverse. Instead of the employer demanding work for now pay, it's the employee demanding pay for no work. The freedom of the employer has been replaced with shackles to ex-employees.

      Hey everybody! Let's all retire ten years early. Just quit your company, make the old company put up ten years of your old salary in escrow, then get yourself laid off at the new company within a year. Actually, you might be able to retire forty years early after worki
      • Actually, it would be the employee demanding pay from the company that is forcing him to *not* work for a year after his termination/quit date.

        In this day and age, most of us in the information technology field go to work for employers in similar fields, which would violate the previous employer's non-compete.
      • I agree, that sounds almost as ridiculous as claiming ownership on an ex-employee's personal growth.
      • WTF? That's just indentured servitude (a form of slavery) in reverse.

        Otherwise known a "Freedom".

        Instead of the employer demanding work for now pay, it's the employee demanding pay for no work.

        Nope. Not unless the company wants to play the indentured servant game.

        The freedom of the employer has been replaced with shackles to ex-employees.

        Not unless the employer wants to play the indentured servant game.

        If the employer doesn't try to pull any non-compete crap, then none of this would apply.

        Hey everybo

      • by mrchaotica (681592) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:33PM (#13422567)
        You don't get it, do you? This is voluntary for the company. They can choose to do this, or they can just let the guy work for the other company.

        It's not "the employee demanding pay for no work," it's the employer demanding no work and the employee demanding not to starve to death!
      • the problem is that you went to school to learn about doing whatever you do. Let assume it is search engines. You now are able to make the most money and impact doing that exact area of expertise. If you leave one employer for more money, better benifits, or a general better working enviroment, you might not be able to continue working in the field you know and need to be retrained.

        This process stops an employer from saying you will do this and like it because you have nowere else to go. This also gives yo
    • Re:Simple solution. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eric76 (679787) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:17PM (#13422480)
      That sounds like a great approach.

      About 15 years ago, I knew one engineer at the Johnson Space Center area who accepted early retirement from IBM division there and accepted a job with another NASA contractor on a project that was not in competition with IBM. The terms of his early retirement agreement specified that he could not work for another company in competition with IBM.

      IBM nixed that about two weeks after his retirement and before he started at the other job. Their reasoning was that they might want to bid on that contract later and he would then be violating the terms of his agreement.

      A lawsuit with IBM to enforce his rights would have ended his retirement plan with IBM as well.

      It really left him in a bind for quite a while.

      A solution like yours would have helped him enormously.
      • A lawsuit with IBM to enforce his rights would have ended his retirement plan with IBM as well.
        Wait a second -- you're saying that suing IBM for their breach of contract would put him in breach of contract?! How the fuck could that be possible?! First of all, that's completely absurd, and second of all, IBM already broke the contract so after that point anything the guy does is irrelevant.

        (disclaimer: IANAL)
        • Simple.

          The employment agreement probably said that if you sue IBM over your retirment package, you forfeit it automatically. Probably not enforcable in the courts, but IBM would still be able to stop mailing him checks until the court explictly ruled so. The way courts work, they might not even owe penalties under the premise that they were just following the letter of the contract.

          The fact is that when it is you against IBM, and they owe you $500k over the next 30 years, you're the one over a barrel - no
      • That situation sounds disturbing. It isn't that IBM might want to compete, it is that they weren't competing.

        It sounds like it would be a first come first serve situation. If ibm decided to compete after knowing an ex employee who signed this agreement was working there, they should loose thier rights to enforce that part of the contract in that case. Unless it is specificaly stated somewere in the terms describing another situation that is.

        Large companies tend to do stuff like this because they can. It wo
  • I seem to recall at least one lawsuit over this sort of thing that did not involve a no-compete clause. So CNET's analysis seems to be accurate but missing the verification that one would think a lawyer would do. IANAL, BTW.

    Secondly, I think that there is a reasonable concern over trade secrets, but that this needs to be carefully scoped. I.e. I suspect that there are no technology secrets that Microsoft is developing that Google would even find interesting, but the larger question is whether the new emp
  • This reminds me of that novel Jennifer Government, where in the dystopian anarcho-capitalist future, companies can sue former employees for losses in productivity which might result from an employee leaving their job.

    Here, we have a company suing over potential losses in intellectual property which might result an employee leaving their job.

    You tell me which is more surreal.

    The future, is.... now?
    • "Here, we have a company suing over potential losses in intellectual property which might result an employee leaving their job."

      Actually its over a breach of contract. And its not about his old employer's potential losses, its about his new employer's potential gains. And its not over him leaving his job, its from him taking a similar job with another company in which knowledge of his old employer's confidential information would, according to Microsoft, would influence him in his new job.

      So they are

    • My memory of the event is hazzy, but I recall a succesful lawsuit was filed against a key employee of a company that claimed they suffered financial loss when he left for another job. If memory serves he did not give them two weeks notice so the company had to scramble to find a replacement.

      You might find it particularly onerous, but we don't seem to have "at will" employment in any province in Canada. You can't simply be fired for no reason and it appears that, at least in key positions, such consideration
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @03:59PM (#13422392)
    Intresting that MS decide that inevitable disclosure is a problem when their employees leave given that it wasnt an issue when they poached/bribed a lot of the guys from Borland in the .NET ramp up.
    • by einhverfr (238914) <chris.traversNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:13PM (#13422463) Homepage Journal
      Intresting that MS decide that inevitable disclosure is a problem when their employees leave given that it wasnt an issue when they poached/bribed a lot of the guys from Borland in the .NET ramp up.

      And don't forget hiring the DEC VMS team to build NT....

      Personally I don't think this will be such an issue. Courts have historically been reasonable about things like no-compete clauses and tended to try to protect employees from overextensions of these things.

      Secondly, we live in a country where a person can sue another person for any reason. If a distinct claim is made according to law, it will become a matter for the trial. If not, it will be dismissed. If it goes to trial and there are sufficient disputed facts, it goes to a jury trial. If not, it usually ends up in summary judgement procedings (which are cheaper and more predictable than jury trials).

      IANAL, and this is just my lay understanding. So don't believe anything I say :-)
    • George Carlin had a joke about business people being evil fucks who just want to screw you. "Do you know why that's true?" the joke went. "Because if you put two of them across from each other they will each know the other person is trying to screw them and will acct accordingly".

      Of course he was a lot funnier but it's true. Every business owner is trying to screw other businesses (and others too). MS "knows" google is trying to screw them because MS has screwed every single company they have ever dealt w
  • by scattol (577179) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:00PM (#13422397)
    Maybe it should be law that if a company wants to bind you to a long non-disclosure, it should also be forced to agree to a golden-parachute clause as long as the non-disclosure?

    Say you work in search engine technology for Microsoft, how are you going to earn a nice living elsewhere? Afterall your skill is searches and that's what people are willing to pay for. Well if your employer wants to prevent you from earning a decent living, it should pay for it!

    I am sure that there is a flaw in that argument, and I understand Microsoft's position in the matter but in these circumstances doesn't it make the employee a virtual slave of the employer if he can't use his skills elswhere?
    • Golden parachutes would usually only kick in if you retire or are asked to leave. This guy left on his own.

      I'm surprised more cases like this haven't happened (or at least been publicized) in the EU, where their civil rights tend to include the right to work. I'm interested in seeing how federalism works in the EU, and whether or not there will be secessions from the Union when the going gets tough.
      • iirc this kind of thing was smacked down in sweden because "slavery is not legal", outright theft is one thing... but plain ridiculous stuff just doesn't even get tried that often in courts. a lot of people have contracts with nda's and non-compete clauses though, but they only go that far(and certainly wouldn't include imaginary damages).

        eventually if you keep up this kind of shit the smart people will never join your ranks in the first place - with all the outsourcing and stuff it might just be better to
      • I have yet to hear from such bullshit as non-compete clauses or "everything you invent in your free time belongs to the company" in European work contracts. I believe those are inventions only possible in the insane american legal environment (at least until lobbying transforms europe into a second US).
    • "I am sure that there is a flaw in that argument..."

      There is: People actually sign the contracts. Microsoft says "This is what we'll give you, this is what you gotta do in return." Employee says "Hmm I can swing that." and all is done. If you're valuable enough that MS would pay you all that money and ask you to sign that contract, but if you cannot afford to live unemployed for six months to a year after that, then don't sign the contract. If you do, you have no business crying that Microsoft has made
      • Are you aware that indentured servants 300 years ago willingly signed contracts to become so? And are you aware that indentured servitude is still illegal anyway? There are certain rights that you cannot sign away, even if you try.
        • "Are you aware that indentured servants 300 years ago willingly signed contracts to become so?"

          Are you aware that non disclosure agreements are not indentured servitude? Think about what caused this term to come into being with this context then ask yourself if you really want to liken Lee's plight to the nastiness that a lot of people endured '300 years ago'.
          • Are you aware that non disclosure agreements are not indentured servitude?

            But the crux of the article is that the doctrine of inevitable disclosure translates non-disclosure agreements into non-compete agreements. Such agreements are more likely to be considered indentured servitude.

      • "This is what we'll give you, this is what you gotta do in return."

        "And even if we stop giving you things, you still have to do stuff for us?" Where I come from, that's called "involuntary servitude." Just because it's in a contract doesn't mean it's leagal or enforcable.
        • "And even if we stop giving you things, you still have to do stuff for us?"

          "We'll give you a million dollars if you don't work for a competing company for a year."

          Don't be so dramatic.
          • No, the "million dollars," the salary is for work performed for the company, services rendered. And when the money stops, the employee has no obligation to continue doing anything for their former employer, including honoring some sort of "non-compete" clause. Once one side of the contract ceases to hold up its end (namely, paying the salary), the employee is under no obligation to continue upholding their end.
            • Wrong. The employee signs a contract beforehand, *including* explicitly agreeing to obligations that extend past the period of employment. It's all perfectly above-board, and the employee has nobody to blame if he signs it and then decides he doesn't want to uphold his part.
            • "No, the "million dollars," the salary is for work performed for the company, services rendered. And when the money stops, the employee has no obligation to continue doing anything for their former employer, including honoring some sort of "non-compete" clause."

              The 'million dollars' was his salary IF he agreed to the terms of the contract that he willingly signed. Microsoft held up their end of the bargain, he has to hold up his. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they kept paying him aft
    • Did you mean non-compete or non-disclosure?

      If you meant non-compete, then I agree with what you said. If you did mean non-disclosure, then I disagree.

      In the case of a non-compete, since the company would be preventing me from working for another company in the field, I definitely should get a golden parachute. Should I obtain a position at a company that is not considered a competitor, the terms of the contract can be renegotiated.

      Non-disclosures are a different beast. I feel that you shouldn't be able
      • If there's something really worth protecting, they could patent it.

        But many companies don't and try to use trade secret law instead, which is a legitimate tool. As long as the company takes steps to protect proprietary information from disclosure, then the court may find someone liable for disclosing it.

        But really, trade secret law should be kept very weak, since with a blanket NDA it could cover just about anything. We need some clear bright-line tests before an injunction should be allowed to prevent some
        • I agree wholeheartedly with everything that you said. I specifically chose not to mention patents though, because there are things that you could learn, that while not necessarily patentable, do seperate your company from others. (Perhaps an efficient algorithm for filtering packets, which although is blatently obvious, your competitors haven't figured it out, or felt the need to figure it out due to lack of competetion.)

          I disagree with the, "All you know, and all you create while you work with us belong
    • Maybe it should be law that if a company wants to bind you to a long non-disclosure, it should also be forced to agree to a golden-parachute clause as long as the non-disclosure?

      Executives frequently do get these golden parachute and poison pill type provisions put into their employment contracts so that even if they get fired for dismal performance they still get a big payout on the way out. Average corporate drone level employees would never be offered these types of provisions or even the opportunity
    • Don't sign a non-compete agreement. If it means you don't get the job, tough. Renegotiate your contract, or work for someone else.
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:02PM (#13422411) Homepage
    The Chinese government is the worst major government on Earth today. It's still a totalitarian government and an aggressive, would-be empire. It's amazing to me at times how much we are willing to do to build up their economy, only to have them eventually become a dominant military and trade empire in Asia, and possibly one day Europe as well.

    When I think of how China treats the Tibetans and Uhigurs, I just can't believe that we let companies like Microsoft and Google trade with them. The scary part about this competition to build up their services in China is that regardless of which company wins, the Chinese government wins because its private and state-owned corporations get a much larger economy to profit from. That in turn goes into building up the military, which btw they are now making steady progress toward having a blue water navy in the pacific.
    • by BewireNomali (618969) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:29PM (#13422539)
      It's like the US is damned both ways. In doing trade with them, we essentially enable and enbolden our replacement as a superpower. We ignore them, and our economy becomes an also ran as other economies enjoy the windfall of dealing with the sheer mass of their economy.

      One can argue about a correlation between the health of an economy and the size of their urban centers, especially as far as consumer spending goes. China's urban centers alone stand at 300 million and counting. It's a fucking awesome mass of people just entering the first world economy. The Chinese are known to be excellent at saving cash; I read something about car companies salivating to get into the market because an overwhelming percentage of cars are purchased with cash (their banking system sucks, another chink in the armor).

      I agree with all of the human rights concerns, etc., but they embody a critical mass that cannot be ignored.

      someone posted something about them being unable to feed themselves. They can't power themselves either. I can imagine the war *cough* middle east destabilization efforts *cough* is a preemptive attempt to prevent consolidation and collusion efforts in the middle east with the chinese.

      All in all, they can't be ignored. We're fucked both ways. I'm learning mandarin.

      Oh, and to get on the topic: how is it possible that this Lee guy not ever disclose trade secrets. It's impossible. Not only that, but he's a well educated Chinese man who well serves as a frontman for a company attempting to woo the Chinese government into allowing them egress. There is so much more at stake with this lawsuit. If google establishes a significant foothold in that market, microsoft might be done. Wow. Like, they could really be done. A suite of server side applications for free, serving two billion people (their current penetration plus the chinese market) - OS agnostic. Then an OS like Linux can thrive - Google can even champion its own distribution - for free of course - that integrates all of its server side apps directly on a clean GUI - right on the desktop. It not only puts Microsoft in a quandary - but it wipes out a significant segment of the industry in one fell swoop. It's the commoditization of software - and a monopoly on information and the potential for relationships. Shit.

      Guess that money spent on PHDs was well spent.

      Sorry for the ramble.

      • I can imagine the war *cough* middle east destabilization efforts *cough* is a preemptive attempt to prevent consolidation and collusion efforts in the middle east with the chinese.

        Yes - this was a part of it. There is an extra part to the plan that you haven't spotted however. As well as the Iraq invasion sending a strong message of "you sell to us, or else," to the Middle East and a strong message of "They're ours," to the rest of the world, both of which are in part an attempt to deprive China of the
    • I don't think China is as big of a threat to the western world as you think. China could potentially pose a threat in three ways: militarily, though economic superiority, and through mass consumption of resources.

      Militarily, I doubt that there will be any more superpower vs. superpower "hot" wars, due to the certainty of nuclear retaliation. The most China could do without risking nuclear war is conquer small neighboring states of no world economic value.

      With respect to economics, despite their large popul
  • Well, duh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:03PM (#13422414)
    This is all you need to know in understanding things in the current employment environment:
    1. Does it work to the benefit of the employer?
    2. Then it's true.
    Got it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:04PM (#13422422)
    This is why people should not work for companies like Microsoft. If you think they screw with their customers, imagine how they treat their own employees.
    • No, this is why people should be very diligent in reading the fine print on contracts.

      If you can't abide by the terms of the contract, then you either negotiate the contract, or don't take the job, it's that simple. If people wouldn't accept the jobs, then companies like Microsoft would have to treat their employees better.

      Sidenote 1: From the time I spent at the Microsoft campus in Richmond (one week in late December 2000), I got the impression that full-time employees are treated quite well. Everybody h
  • I was a juror... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ninejaguar (517729) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:07PM (#13422437)
    ...in a lawsuit in California where a company sued its former president for taking two key employees with him and starting a competing company. I don't believe any of them signed an agreement not to compete or disclose trade secrets; at least I don't think the two employees did (they were being sued too). Maybe the ex-president did. It didn't matter. You can't stop people from working in California, no matter what they have in their heads. I'm not sure about the rest of the United States.

    I'm of the opinion that what is in your head is yours, and makes you what you are. As no one can own you, in part or in whole, they can't own what's in your head. They can only share in it. Your life experiences are your own, and no one elses.

    Trade secrets must be acknowledged as temporary artifices at best. As the pirates say, two men can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.

    = 9J =

    • I am a software engineer working for a company in Southern California and it was my understanding that in the State of California a professional cannot be prevented from practicing his chosen profession by a contract law agreement (i.e. non-compete is not enforceable in California), with the possible exemption of board level executives where this type of provision is enforceable. Perhaps, having served recently on a jury that deliberated this type of case, you could offer some further insights into the circ
    • Valid point, but Microsoft is based in Redmond, Washington, and not California. Therefore the non-compete agreement is under Washington law.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was sued for exactly that reason (knowledge of information, like customer names, what they bought, pricing, etc). When it came time for my lawyers to present my side of the case, the judge said to them: "You don't really want to waste the court's time with this, do you?" and threw the case out. I thought that was pretty cool, since I didn't have the $5 million I was being sued for and needed the job.

    Employees at will can quit or be fired at any time, and there are a lot of precedents (esp in CA tech indu
  • Am I the only one reminded of the bad guy from snow crash who wanted to control the information in his programmers brains?

    (I can't remember the names right now)
  • by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:23PM (#13422502) Journal
    In today's modern industrial society, corporations have the freedom to restructure their corporate operations unfettered by such obsolete, quaint notions as labor unions or national borders. But can today's lean, muscular engines of economic opportunity lay off workers with the assurance that their trade secrets will be protected? Will HR consultants be able to utilize the synergistic interplay between noncompete clauses and pink slips? Or will meddling nation-states intervene, citing old-fashioned notions of "justice"?
    • You know us tech workers could unionize; the only trouble is that a bunch of us have been deluded into thinking we can do better on our own (whether that's true or not, I don't know).
      • I would never participate in a tech union, because given my experience over the last six years (four different companies, but smaller ones), I know that I could do better.

        Unions served a very useful role when they came out, but I've talked to (former) unionized workers recently, and their common conclusion is that unions protect the weakest people best - those who can't fulfill their job responsilibities very well (i.e. meet the quota, and a reasonable one at that).

        I'd rather perserve my job by showing mana
  • Free market labor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Telastyn (206146) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:28PM (#13422530)
    Lee's conduct threatens to disclose or Lee inevitably will disclose Microsoft's trade secrets to Google and/or others for his and/or Google's financial gain in the course of working to improve Google search products that compete with Microsoft, and in the course of establishing and building Google's presence in China to compete with Microsoft's efforts in China.

    "Well then maybe you should've made him not want to leave."

    I find it amusing that companies are allowed to fuck employees in the race for cheaper labor, but valuable employees [alledgedly] aren't allowed to fuck employers in the race for higher wages.
  • by NotASuit (545107) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:40PM (#13422599)
    One of the reasons that California's tech sector is dominant, and that California has such a history of innovation, is that California law does not enforce non-compete contracts except in very narrow circumstances. IAAL, and as someone who has litigated these cases before, I suggest to any employee that they attempt to negotiate a California choice of law clause in their employment contracts, especially if they work in California or for a company based in California.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:49PM (#13422651)
    I think it's becoming time to put the shoe on the other foot. Employees need to have their employers sign a no-sue agreement in the event they change jobs ensuring that said employer has no control over an employees employment prospects once they leave the company. IANAL, however it would be nice to see a lawyer create and put up such a sample agreement.

    When will this work? The next time the job market becomes tight in tech.

  • by hattig (47930) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @04:52PM (#13422667) Journal
    No company can OWN any part of a person, and that includes their knowledge.

    You hire people to make use of their knowledge and skills. If they improve these during their time with you, then you benefit. You pay them for this. Once they have stopped working for you, you own no part of them.

    It comes down to trust here. He knew Microsoft trade secrets and upcoming plans ('Copy good ideas we see') as part of his job. He was paid to not disclose those plans outside Microsoft, and so far he has not, as far as I know. Until Microsoft can prove that he breached those plans, he is innocent and all this action is at best scare tactics, and at worst a massive notice to everyone out there to never ever accept a job with Microsoft because they will treat you as owned property, including your knowledge, making you no better than a slave that gets fed and houses (via wages). Feudal capitalism, what a nightmare.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @05:04PM (#13422722)
    Having the Google Toolbar installed on his Microsoft Internet Explorer.
  • 'You can't work in the same industry for X months if you quit, or we sue you' clauses: illegal (what are they going to do, work in Starbucks for six/twelve/twenty-four months?)

    'If you go to work for/set up a competing company and use your inside knowledge of your former employer to harm us, then we sue you' clauses: legal.

    That way, the burden falls on the first company to prove harmful intent, and doesn't mean that some highly trained guy can't actually work in the field he's suited for because of paran

  • by sillivalley (411349) <sillivalley@@@comcast...net> on Sunday August 28, 2005 @05:31PM (#13422845)
    Of course if you deal with M$ and look at their confidentiality/nondisclosure agreements, they specifically reserve residual rights -- so they're complaining about an ex-employee possibly doing what they explicitly say they're going to do to others.

    Big surprise.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @06:07PM (#13423047) Homepage
    This is what happens when you stop making things and rely on brain share products to make a living.

    We've outsourced most of our manufacturing other countries, so now companies are going collectively insane trying to protect their brain share products whether it's music, movies, software or patentable ideas. This is just extending that protectionist mind set to the employees who think up the ideas.

    It's insane. And I'm afraid we're going to wake up in the middle of an economic Pearl Harbor depending on sales of products with no substance.

  • It sounds to me like Microsoft would just prefer to cap the guy then have him work for some other 'organization'.

    I don't care how much you may legally justify it, the guy is his own person and should have the right to do and think as he does, Unless he commits some sort of (illegal) violence, I don't think it's any of their business.

    If it was such an important issue, they maybe sould not trust such informatin to mere mortals and just load it in to some VB script to keep the info safe.

    Look, we are talking people here, the companies are not looking at that fact, only the potential effect it might have on thier stocks.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Sunday August 28, 2005 @09:33PM (#13424008) Journal
    welcome our noncompete nondisclosure overlords.

    Looks like corporate management has found a new Fugitve Slave Law [wikipedia.org] to ensure that the full power of the State and its courts enforce their ownership of their human property.

    Sigh. Is it this bad in other countries, or is it just the nation formerly known as the United States of America?

  • by inkswamp (233692) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:47AM (#13425817)
    Seems that big corporations like MS want the good side of capitalism (the money-making bit) without the annoyances of the bad (competition.) People should be free to leave companies and use whatever they can take in their own heads with them. If they go to a competitor, so what? Of they start their own business doing the same, so what? Isn't competition good for the system? That's what I was told growing up.

    Or maybe tech companies could avoid this mess by treating employees like life-long investments, treating talented and intelligent people like an integral part of the company instead of an expense, instead of treating them as a resource to be drained and discarded, instead of outsourcing their jobs when they become inconvenient or too expensive, instead of making them sign restrictive employment contracts, instead of hiring them on in a temporary basis, instead of cutting back benefits. Maybe then employees wouldn't feel the need to leave and go to a competitor.

    Oh, that's right. That would require companies to compete to retain employees. I forgot... they don't want to do that. They just want the money, no matter who gets walked on.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken

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