There’s been plenty of speculation lately about Google’s plans for China and whether it plans a big move there soon, especially when word got out that CEO Eric Schmidt was on a business trip there. Today, word comes that Google will open an R&D office in China. Dr. Kai-Fu Lee will lead the operations there. Google describes Lee thusly:

Dr. Lee, who is widely known for his pioneering work in the areas of speech recognition and artificial intelligence, joins Google from Microsoft, where he most recently held the position of corporate vice president, after founding Microsoft Research China in the late 1990s. Prior to joining Microsoft, Dr. Lee was a vice president and general manager at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), responsible for Internet and multimedia software. Lee also spent six years at Apple, serving as vice president of the company’s interactive media group, and before that was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

UPDATE: Microsoft is apparently none too happy with the Lee hire. It’s filed suit against Google and Lee for breach of Microsoft’s confidentiality and non-compete agreement.

UPDATE: Google has emailed us this response to the suit: “We have reviewed Microsoft’s claims and they are completely without merit.
Google is focused on building the best place in the world for great
innovators to work. We’re thrilled to have Dr. Lee on board at Google. We will defend vigorously against these meritless claims and will fully support Dr. Lee.”

UPDATE: Microsoft’s legal complaint is here. (693k PDF file)