Kai-Fu Lee, the president of Google's Greater China operation and the subject of a bitter employee custody battle between Google and Microsoft, will leave the search giant later this month.
Lee, who left Microsoft in 2005 to take over Google's operations in China, is resigning from the company to start his own venture and will be succeeded by a Google employee, the company confirmed Thursday evening. Lee's departure was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
"With a very strong leadership team in place, it seemed a very good moment for me to move to the next chapter in my career," Lee said in a statement announcing his departure.
An expert in speech recognition technology, Lee founded Microsoft's China research lab in the late 1990s and worked at Silicon Graphics and Apple before joining Microsoft. Before joining Google, Lee had been working at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, focusing on new search technologies.
Google announced in July 2005 that it was hiring Lee, and Microsoft immediately filed suit in Washington state court against Lee and Google, arguing that Lee was violating a one-year noncompete agreement that was part of his Microsoft contract. Google later countersued in California court. Microsoft settled with Google in December 2005, without releasing terms of the pact.
Google put Lee in charge of its search efforts in China, with hopes of democratizing data in China. However, some three years after launching its efforts in China, the search company is still mired in an uncomfortable working relationship with government censors.