A US judge has ruled that a high-profile defector from Microsoft to Google will be able to help the search company set up an R&D facility in China while a case over his hiring comes to trial in January 2006.

Kai-Fu Lee will be able to employ "his general knowledge, personal attributes, general reputation and skills" to set up and staff the Google center, wrote Judge Steven Gonzalez of Superior Court of Washington State in King County in his 13-page preliminary injunction.

"Provided Dr. Lee does not recruit from Microsoft or use any confidential information from Microsoft," he can engage in activities such as establishing facilities, hiring engineers and administrators and interacting with public officials, according to the ruling.

Lee will also be able to meet with university administrators and professors and offer "general, non-technical advice to Google about how to do business in China," Gonzalez wrote, in a decision that follows two days of hearings last week in which Microsoft and Google argued their points.

"Microsoft has not sufficiently shown that it has a clear legal or equitable right to enjoin Dr. Lee, pending trial, from establishing and staffing a Google Development Facility in China," Judge Gonzalez wrote.

With this decision, the preliminary injunction thus fails to include a provision that barred Lee from doing work for Google in China, which was included in a temporary restraining order Judge Gonzalez had issued in July.

That temporary restraining order was issued shortly after Microsoft sued Google and Leeover his hiring, alleging breach of a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement Lee signed in 2000 when he became a Microsoft vice president.

Before joining Google, Lee was corporate vice president of Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division. He had also been involved in Microsoft's China operations.

In Tuesday's decision, Judge Gonzalez kept other parts of the temporary restraining order in the preliminary injunction, however, such as barring Lee from activities including work on computer search technologies, such as Internet search engines and desktop search, and on natural language processing or speech technologies, areas in which Lee was involved while he worked at Microsoft. Lee is also barred from participating in setting the budget or compensation levels and defining the research and development to be undertaken at the China facility, Gonzalez ruled.

However, Google in court filings had stated it has no interest in Lee being involved in those areas, and that Google wants him to be involved in the setup of the China research and development center.