Aid Package For Theseus Web 3.0 Project May Need BoostPublished on 22 October 2007 @ 10:47 am
Intellectual Property Watch
By Bruce Gain for Intellectual Property Watch
The European Commission’s recent approval of a €120-million state aid package granted to a German research project called Theseus for the development of “Web 3.0″ drew a lot of media attention. However, the grant’s sum is but a fraction of the R&D budgets of the world’s leading consumer Internet technology firms.
According to the project’s spokesman, Thomas Huber, the project’s aim is nothing less than “fundamentally transforming the existing Internet.” A reinvention of the Internet and the intellectual property rights associated with such a feat would require billion-dollar annual research and development budgets, according to Rob Enderle, president and founder of the California-based Enderle Group analyst firm.
“While a group of companies with a significant investment could help redefine the future of the Internet, it would take a budget in line with current expenditures to be assured a place at the table and a substantially greater budget to take over the top seat and actually define the future,” Enderle said. “Currently, Germany isn’t the centre of Internet technology, which is defined by companies like Cisco, Adobe, Microsoft, and Google who invest billions in defining the tools we use today and will use tomorrow.”
Still, Theseus project members SAP and Siemens, both German firms, are among the world’s largest technology companies. SAP, for example, is the world’s largest business application software developer and Siemens is a leading electronics engineering company worldwide. Consortium members Empolis and Deutsche Thomson OHG are also major technology firms. But the proportion of their research budgets earmarked for far-reaching research relating to the reinvention of the Internet, especially for consumer applications, is minimal in comparison to their business-to-business research spending.
“[The Theseus project grant] represents a small amount of money,” said Siemens spokesman Christof Schwab, who added that that Siemens’ participation in the project represented just a “fraction” of the company’s roughly €5.0-billion-a-year research budget.
The German government’s involvement in the project and the much-publicized European Union grant of €120-million for the development of what journalists have described as a possible Google alternative, are mired in agendas that do not have much to do with technology, Enderle said.
“This [project] has the feel of a political effort where the participants are creating the impression that they are on top of this when the reality is they aren’t willing to invest at a level – and they know it – where they could really make a difference,” Enderle said. “In short, it is more symbolic than meaningful when taken against the billions being spent on the future of the Web.”
The Theseus project’s stated goal, nevertheless, is ambitious. “In the ever more confusing flood of data, structured knowledge resources can be efficiently established and, for the first time, complex knowledge can be reproduced as well,” Huber said. “The Internet of the next generation, Web 3.0, will provide easy access to the structured global knowledge and to novel services, and crucially improve the quality of information of the relevant contents that are needed at a given moment.”
Other research areas include metadata multimedia files distribution, multimedia document processing and archiving, and user interface development.However, the Theseus spokesman declined to detail specific products or applications that might arise from the Theseus project during the next five or so years.
Theseus began in 2005 as part of a project that the German and French governments initiated to help boost the intellectual property ownership of firms in the two respective countries. While Internet-search-engine-giant Google as well as other world leading technology firms such as Cisco and Microsoft were not singled out, a principle aim of the initiative was to boost Germany and France’s competitiveness in the technology sector.
The French and German project spawned both Theseus and Quaero, which is a France-based consortium. Quaero, often confused as the French equivalent of Theseus, is at this time separate.
“At the government level, they are trying to coordinate [efforts between the two projects], but at my level, I don’t see it yet,” Francois Bourdoncle, president and chief executive officer of search engine designer Exalead and one of the leaders of the Quaero program. “There might be some cooperation between the two programs, but it is very thin, and it is at the governmental level, because the two programs are very separate. Quaero is about multimedia indexing, and this is not what Theseus is doing.”
The Quaero project developers seek to create multimedia search and data management tools. Instead of using text-based terms, one could search for sound, music, or video files using audio or image files for matches in an archive.
Multimedia indexing is but one component of the Theseus project, which breaks down into several different research categories. Some of the more elemental research projects involve machine-learning algorithms, computer interface development, digital rights management software, and testing methods for image and speech-analysis technologies.
Another common misperception is that Theseus, as well as Quaero, are European attempts to develop applications to compete directly against Google. Representatives from both projects deny this assertion.
“[Theseus] is not a search engine,” Theseus’ Huber said.
Bourdoncle said Quaero could offer a different level of indexing involving multimedia search terms, for example, which Google does not offer.
Bruce Gain may be reached at email@example.com.