Microsoft shows collaborative R&D spirit in Europe

Microsoft Corp. is calling its new applied research and development (R&D) centre in Aachen, Germany, the first of a kind in its portfolio of R&D activities worldwide.

“The European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC) is unique for Microsoft in terms of a research centre in the sense that it’s about incubating technology and about collaborating with other third parties, such as academia and industry partners,” said Jean-Philippe Courtois, Microsoft’s chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), speaking Monday in a conference call with journalists.

On Monday, Microsoft officially opened the German research centre, roughly one year after announcing plans to expand its research efforts in Europe. “This is an extension of our research development capabilities in Europe,” Courtois said. “It an extra commitment on our side to be part of the development community in Europe.”

The new centre joins three other research and development centres operated by the U.S. software giant in Europe: the Cambridge, England, centre focused on fundamental research; the Dublin product development centre devoted to product localization; and the Vedbaek, Denmark, centre devoted to business software development.

Worldwide, Microsoft will invest nearly US$7 billion in research and development this year, boasting one the highest R&D budgets in the industry, according to Courtois.

The new German centre was created to participate in applied research projects such as those sponsored by the European Commission and national governments in Europe, he said.

The applied research falls into three areas in which Europe has already developed a high level of expertise: Web services, security and privacy technologies and wireless systems, Microsoft said in a statement. In addition, the research focuses on three platforms: enterprise computing, embedded devices and the extended home.

In a nutshell, the primary goal of EMIC is to convert — in close collaboration with partners — innovative ideas into technologies that can be used by organizations, companies and individuals, typically within a period of three to six years, Courtois said.

While EMIC will allow third parties to benefit from Microsoft’s technology expertise, the centre will also allow the U.S. company to learn from and develop stronger relationships with technology partners in Europe, including universities, public-sector research institutions, governments and other companies, according to EMIC Director Pierre-Yves Saintoyant.

The EMIC team currently consists of 12 scientists and engineers working on six projects, with plans to add eight more people in the coming months, according to the statement. “We’ll be adding more people as we move forward,” Courtois said. “This is just the beginning.”

Courtois declined to provide investment details. In a Friday interview with IDG News Service, he said the Commission, on average, subsidizes between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of investments that companies make in its research programs.

To give an idea of the money involved in some of the European Union research programs, a Microsoft spokesman said the Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence project in which EMIC is a member was selected by the Commission as part of its 6th Framework Programme. The project is slated to run from 2002 to 2006, with a total budget of

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