Microsoft acquires mobile search vendor MotionBridge

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BARCELONA, Spain-Software giant Microsoft Corp. announced it acquired Paris-based mobile search company MotionBridge. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in June 2000, MotionBridge powers mobile search services for operators including O2 plc, T-Mobile International, Orange SA and Sprint Nextel Corp. On Sprint Nextel, MotionBridge appears under the “Find it” link, allowing users to search for downloadable content or sites outside of Sprint Nextel’s portal.

Microsoft’s move is notable for several reasons. First, The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor makes relatively few acquisitions, generally preferring to leverage its own vast research and development efforts to break into new markets. The company’s acquisition of MotionBridge could give Microsoft a further foot in the door for sales to wireless carriers.

The deal is also notable because it deals specifically with mobile search. Search giant Google Inc. has been challenging Microsoft in the desktop computer space, and Google has recently extended its efforts into the wireless industry. Microsoft’s acquisition of MotionBridge could stand as Microsoft’s attempt to impede Google’s advances in the mobile market.

“The emerging field of mobile search is strategically important and crucial to delivering on our vision for Windows Live of providing a seamless and rich information experience for individuals and businesses across devices,” said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of MSN Search at Microsoft. “With MotionBridge, we are excited to continue to offer mobile operators the tools to maximize the value of their content and data networks, and provide a powerful search engine for mobile users. By combining the mobile search solutions of MotionBridge with Microsoft mobile search instruments such as local and Web search, we will provide mobile operators and consumers with an even richer search experience.”

Microsoft joints a crowded market in mobile search. Along with Google, Yahoo Inc. and InfoSpace Inc. also play in the space, as well as pure-play startups including 4INFO, JumpTap Inc. and iCrossing Inc.

Microsoft said MotionBridge’s technology brings “superior simplicity for users, delivering clustered results and deep links to downloadable content from multiple providers with device filtering.” Specifically, MotionBridge allows users to search for a variety of content using simple keywords. For example, to access sports content, a user could type “sport” on his or her handset, and MotionBridge would dig up relevant wireless Web sites and downloadable content. Microsoft said operators can control search results and get detailed usage statistics.

Interestingly, MotionBridge recently took a page out of Google’s playbook. MotionBridge last year launched a sponsored-links service, which allows content providers to bid for keywords, define advertisement details and target specific mobile devices.

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