EU opens monopoly abuse probe into Thomson Reuters

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 7:26 AM

EU antitrust regulators said Tuesday that they are investigating whether Thomson Reuters Corp. is breaking monopoly abuse rules by preventing customers from applying their own codes to financial market datafeeds.

Thomson Reuters said it would fully cooperate with the investigation.

The probe centers on real-time market datafeeds on trading prices that news and information provider Thomson Reuters supplies to financial customers. EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said it involves the data piped to banks' internal computer systems, not the company's terminals.

The European Commission says it wants to check if the company locks in customers because it may make it difficult for them to use their own or other software to translate the Reuters Instrument Codes (RIC) that identify the securities and where they are traded.

"The problem is the restriction that is placed on the use of the code, the fact that if you subscribe to the Thomson Reuters real-time market datafeed you're not allowed to use the identification codes alongside a feed from another service provider," Todd said.

Banks face "a long and costly procedure" to replace these codes by reconfiguring or rewriting their own software, regulators said.

Todd said EU officials identified the potential antitrust abuse when they looked at Thomson's takeover of Reuters last year which formed the company. He said they didn't act then because it was not relevant to the merger review, which only examined how a newer larger firm would affect competition.

He said the EU was making the case a priority. Thomson Reuters has three rivals in this area and "none of them have this restriction."

Thomson Reuters said it worked with customers "to explore how best to add value to our data services." It said the RIC tags were designed to help them navigate the company's global content.

There is no deadline to end the investigation. If officials find evidence of antitrust abuse, they can demand that a company change its behavior under threat of fines of up to 10 percent of its global turnover for every year that the business broke the law.

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AP business writer Jane Wardell in London contributed to this story.