With regard to employment contracts, the state laws of California and Washington differ considerably: Washington allows noncompete clauses if they're found to be "reasonable." California doesn't recognize them at all.
Citing California policy, Google's attorneys note that an employee's interest in his or her mobility and career betterment trumps a company's interest in limiting competition when no laws have been broken. This policy against noncompetition clauses, they argue, "has been credited as a major reason for the success of the Silicon Valley."
People used to credit stock options. That was back when they were worth something.
In an era of increased employee mobility and increased reliance on intellectual assets, the Kai-Fu Lee dispute raises difficult questions. Is Microsoft justified in placing its business interests above the business interests of an individual? Did Kai-Fu Lee break any laws when contemplating and planning his change of corporate loyalties? What do employees owe employers and vice versa?
It would, of course, be easier to ignore all these questions and let Microsoft duke it out with Google in a game of Red Rover. You know it'd be fun to see Steve Ballmer call out, "Red rover, red rover, send Eric Schmidt over!"