EC OKs Google challenge

Will fund rival Euro search engine

Germany has been given the green light by the European Commission for a €120 million ($165.8 million) grant to build a European rival to the Google search engine.

The Theseus project is being developed by companies including engineering company Siemens, business software producer SAP, media giant Bertelsmann and television manufacturer Thomson. It will be the German arm of the French Quaero initiative, which aims to develop the world's most advanced multimedia search engine — creating a set of tools for translating, identifying and indexing images, sound and text.

Though national aid for research is strictly vetted, the EC on Thursday said that the grant will benefit the public by creating new technologies and putting more cultural material onto the Internet.

"I am pleased that Germany intends to promote additional research and innovation for the next generation of the Internet and has taken care to do so in a way that will minimize any distortions of competition," EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

The project will also help overcome coordination problems traditionally faced by EU research and development activities that currently lag far behind the U.S. on cutting-edge information technology.

"As concerns the large companies involved, the commission found that the aid would provide an incentive to increase their level of research, development and innovation activity," the EC said, adding that Theseus' positive effects would outweigh any possible distortion of competition.

The French arm of the project, Quaero, involves companies including France Telecom and a number of key research institutes. Its "query image" search engine aims to use techniques for recognizing, transcribing, indexing and automatic translation of audiovisual documents and it will operate in several languages.