UNITED KINGDOM – British antitrust regulators have launched an investigation into Microsoft’s nearly US$20 billion acquisition of speech recognition company Nuance, the latest indication that they are tightening their scrutiny of large technology transactions, Radiology Business reports.

The Competition and Markets Authority said in a brief statement that it is investigating the purchase because it may result in a “significant lessening of competition” in the UK market.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced the inquiry on Wednesday and stated that it expects to make a decision by March 9.

It follows the European Commission’s own antitrust approval in December. At the time, government officials determined that the deal would have little impact on competition in the markets for physician transcription, cloud storage, enterprise communication, customer relationship management, and productivity software.

Microsoft first announced plans to acquire Nuance, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, in April, with the goal of expanding its presence in healthcare and artificial intelligence.

Nuance’s technology is currently used by 55% of all physicians in the country, 75% of radiologists, and 77% of all hospitals in the United States.

Officials said at the time that acquiring the company would more than double Microsoft’s total addressable market in the healthcare provider space, bringing it to nearly $500 billion.

Antitrust regulators in the United States already gave their approval in June. A Nuance official stated last month that the deal is on track to be completed in early 2022.

This would be Microsoft’s second-largest acquisition, trailing only the US$26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn.

Healthcare has been a growing interest for tech titans for a number of years, with Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and even Facebook all taking an interest in building tools for tracking, monitoring, or otherwise supporting health.

Their keen interest is raising concerns that their ambitions in such a sensitive area will further entrench their dominance and market power as a vital sector ramps up digitization.

Nuance provides medical transcription, clinical speech recognition, and medical imaging services to healthcare businesses and hospitals.

Its technology has paid off during the pandemic by reducing note taking and thus reducing doctors’ and nurses’ exposure to coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is retooling domestic competition law to account for platform power, and has stated that it will implement a “pro-competition” regime to protect smaller innovators from the market muscle of tech giants.

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