France to give €99m to search-engine project

France on Tuesday won European Union approval to give â,¬99-million to several companies hoping to build a European rival to United States internet search giant Google.

The European Commission said it could allow the government to fund French technology group Thomson SA and 22 other companies working on the Quaero multimedia search project because the potential benefits to European research would outweigh any gain Thomson would win over rivals.

Quaero—Latin for “I search”—would develop technology for working with all platforms, including desktops, mobile devices and televisions, and would be sold to TV companies, filmmakers, post-production facilities and anyone who creates or uses audiovisual content.

Just less than half the funding for the five-year, â,¬199-million project will come from the French state.

The EU executive says this helped fill a funding gap for something that might not otherwise win financial support because the companies have divergent interests and the chances of the project’s success were uncertain.

Thomson hopes the research will help it offer better internet protocol distribution technology to deliver television programmes or films online.

The EU also said the grant would not help Thomson gain any market power because rivals should also keep up their investment in research and development. EU rules forbid governments granting money to companies if that would give them an unfair advantage over competitors.

Last year, the EU cleared the German government to give â,¬120-million for the German arm of the project, called Theseus.

That money will fund “icebreaker” companies—Siemens, SAP, Deutsche Thomson and Empolis, owned by Bertelsmann—to kick-start research.
Later, the German funding would be spread out to smaller firms.

Fragmented European research efforts are one of the reasons blamed for the region lagging so far behind the United States on cutting-edge information technology.

Mountain View, California-based Google is already working hard to move beyond its leading edge on internet search with an array of new software and telecoms services.—Sapa-AP

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