EU regulators are investigating Microsoft $16 billion Nuance deal

EU regulators are investigating Microsoft $16 billion Nuance deal

According to a questionnaire from last month, Reuters -- EU antitrust regulators are looking into Microsoft Corp's $16 billion deal for transcription technology company Nuance Communications Inc., asking customers and competitors to draw up a list of concerns.

The unreported outreach has been the most extensive by an antitrust authority since the companies announced the acquisition in April, according to a person familiar with the matter.

After minimal review, the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition Commission in October said they would not contest the deal. The companies filed for approval from the European Commission's competition bureau last month, and the regulator has until December 21 to clear the deal or open a bigger investigation.

The companies had predicted to close the deal by the end of the year, but they said last month the timeline could slip to early next year.

The questionnaire asks whether Microsoft and Nuance are competitors and whether a tie-up could affect clients and rivals, including whether Microsoft could favor Nuance over competing services.

Nuance sells a transcription technology that is popular among doctors and call centers that want to automate note-talking. Analysts think the deal is bolstering Microsoft's presence in the healthcare market, and bringing it new voice and medical data to train artificial intelligence offerings in health, speech and biometric security.

Microsoft has grown its business through acquisitions, such as advertising and video gaming, like other big tech companies. In the last decade, Microsoft has avoided the target that has recently dogged its rivals, including Alphabet Inc's Google, Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Inc., all of which are facing antitrust lawsuits and investigations on a number of issues.

Steven Weber, a University of California Berkeley professor studying the intersection of technology and health care, said there was possibility that Microsoft could force its Office suite on Nuance customers by bundling them together.

Nuance serves 77% of the U.S. hospitals.

The success of the company has been ensuring that customers have the ability to use their data to advance its voice recognition systems, according to former chief executive Paul Ricci and another former employee.

A Nuance contract with Augusta University Medical Center, obtained by Reuters this year through a public records request, reads: Customer shall provide access to voice and text data. The license grants Nuance a perpetual royalty-free license to copy, use and analyze such data for speech recognition research. Big cloud vendors, such as Amazon and Microsoft, usually don't have unfettered access to customers' data for research and development. The opportunity to acquire those relationships and data explains Microsoft's interest in Nuance, the former employees said.

Other providers of health transcription technologies include 3 M Co and Philips.