A Washington state judge has cleared the way for Google Inc. (GOOG)to hire a former Microsoft (MSFT) executive to head its Chinese research and development center so long as the employee does not recruit from Microsoft.

King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez found that former Microsoft Vice President Kai-Fu Lee (search) can begin working for Google by setting up a research office in China and recruiting software engineers if he does not use confidential information gleaned while he worked at Microsoft.

"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," Gonzalez wrote in a preliminary injunction ruling.

However, in his order, the judge enjoined Lee and his new employer from working on any product or service that relies on confidential information tied to search, natural language processing and speech recognition he obtained while working for Microsoft. Google lawyers had agreed to these specific restrictions ahead of the ruling, a Google spokesman said.