I always imagined that Google and Microsoft would find themselves locked in the tight embrace of a bitter lawsuit, but this one surprised me a bit. Microsoft has announced that it's suing Web-search leader Google over Google's recent hiring of an ex-Microsoft executive.

What's interesting about this case is that the former executive, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, played a key role in the development of Microsoft's Web search technologies. Lee worked at Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division (NISD) in China before announcing this week that he's leaving the company. But Microsoft says that Lee's employment contract forbids him from working for a direct competitor for 1 year after leaving the software giant.

"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 wrote in a statement. "As a senior executive, Dr. Lee has direct knowledge of Microsoft's trade secrets concerning search technologies and China business strategies."

Google hired Lee to head its new China-based R&D center. China is generally considered the largest emerging technology market in the world. Lee had helped found Microsoft Research Asia (formerly Microsoft Research China) a decade ago.