As much as fostering economic growth, the project is also a way to ensure that Europe's cultural heritage, in the form of text and multimedia documents, is available to its citizens through a search engine developed on its own soil, according to one person involved in the project.
"Probably politically what's behind it is an uncomfortable feeling of having all access to knowledge and information filtered or provided through a search engine that (comes from) abroad," said Alex Waibel, director of the InterACT Center at Germany's University of Karlsruhe, which is developing Quaero's speech and language processing technologies.
"Having said that," he added, "there's also a wish to make search, in a way, much richer, and in particular that involves multimedia and multilingual information."
It was unclear how far the work has progressed, but it seems unlikely that users will be searching the Web with Quaero any time soon. The participants are still determining how they will divide up and manage the various parts of the project, according to one source. And Waibel suggested that some of the language technologies he is working on may be years away.
"At this point it's still a planned project; it's not really gotten off the ground," Waibel said.
Still, one analyst said the project could yield dividends if it comes together as planned. Enterprises could even stand to benefit if the project produces better content management and document annotation technologies, said David Bradshaw, principal analyst with U.K. analyst company Ovum Ltd.
"Could a consortium of companies succeed with something like this? Yes, although it has to be said that software innovation has a home, and it's called the U.S.," he said. "It does tend to dominate in that area."
(Peter Sayer in Paris and Nancy Gohring in Dublin contributed to this report)