Following a US judge’s ruling that he could begin work for the search-engine firm, former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee hasn’t wasted any time getting started on his hunt for staff to work at Google’s planned R&D (research and development) centre in China, a company spokeswoman said on Friday.

Last week, Judge Steven Gonzalez of the Superior Court of Washington State in King County ruled that Lee could begin work for Google to set up an R&D centre in China while a lawsuit over his hiring by the firm awaits a trial that will start in January 2006.

Shortly after that decision was announced, Lee left for China, where he is currently involved in the process of hiring researchers, said Debbie Frost, a spokeswoman for Google. "He went immediately to get that started," she said.

Google, which has a representative office in Shanghai, is just getting started in China, and the hiring of Lee, who is highly respected in China as an academic, is seen by industry observers as a boost to its efforts.

Frost would not comment on specifics of the centre that Google plans to open in China, including where it will be located and how many staff it is expected to employ. However, the official China Daily newspaper quoted Lee as saying the company hoped to hire 50 college graduates this year to work at the centre.

"We hope to hire as many great people as we can find who meet our high standards," Frost said, adding that the centre will be staffed by a mix of experienced researchers and recent graduates.