EU stops clock on ContentGuard investigation

Investigation frozen because Microsoft and Time Warner have yet to supply adequate info about the venture

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has "stopped the clock" on its antitrust investigation into digital rights management software maker ContentGuard, a joint venture between Microsoft and Time Warner, pending further information on the deal, it announced on Wednesday.

A spokesman for competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that the investigation into the joint venture had been frozen because a request for information to the two companies had not received an adequate answer. The Commission is the European Union's executive branch.

The move was not linked to the announcement last week that French electronics maker Thomson was becoming the third major investor in the project, the spokesman said. "Thomson is not the subject of our demand for information," he said.

The participation of Thomson in the deal is widely seen as a strategy by Microsoft and Time Warner to head off the Commission's concerns that ContentGuard might stifle the digital rights management market by blocking competitors' access to its technologies.

According to people familiar with the case, the Commission told the two original investors that they must provide access to ContentGuard's technology through a licensing agreement on fair terms.

The Commission spokesman commented: "We can't say anything about the impact of (the) Thomson (deal) on ContentGuard because we haven't had the details on the affairs concerned."