The world's biggest software company, Microsoft, could find its reception in China, the world's most populous nation, that little bit frostier after a former employee testified in a Washington court that chairman Bill Gates said the Chinese people and its government had "f*****" his company.
According to wire service reports, former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee testified that Gates had lost his temper over a lack of success in penetrating the Chinese market, with the alleged Gates outburst representing a low point in his time at Microsoft.
Microsoft is suing Lee, a search technology linguistics and translation expert along with his new employer, rival technology corporation Google, over an alleged breach of contract where Lee agreed not to perform work for competing firms for the space of a year.
While overseas reports stated Microsoft is denying Gates made the comments, the local company was not able to confirm this with a public relations representative saying only that they were unaware of the story and did not have access to wire services, later adding that "Microsoft refuses to comment".
In the US, a press statement issued by Microsoft said, "We are asking the Court to require Dr Lee and Google to honour the confidentiality and non-competition agreements he signed when he began working for Microsoft.
"Creating intellectual property is the essence of what we do at Microsoft, and we have a responsibility to our employees and our shareholders to protect our intellectual property. As a senior executive, Dr Lee has direct knowledge of Microsoft's trade secrets concerning search technologies and China business strategies. He has accepted a position focused on the same set of technologies and strategies for a direct competitor in egregious violation of his explicit contractual obligations."
However, the incident is the second attack on the state of the Chinese software market by Microsoft senior executives this year. In June, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer surprised many observers after he said software piracy rates in China were as high as 90 percent, adding that this was a fate Microsoft had been forced to accept to gain entry into the Chinese market.
At the time Ballmer quipped he would prefer to see Microsoft's software pirated than that of competing products.
Chinese commercial sources in Australia, who asked not to be named, described Gate's alleged comments as "unhelpful and perhaps difficult", noting the Chinese software market required both a "mutual understanding" and a focus on "longer term" relations.
"Some Microsoft software, especially Excel is a good product, but to say these things can lead to confusion...I think there is some tension for Microsoft," the source said.
The court case continues.