Microsoft's Smith meets UK finance minister after Activision block

FILE PHOTO: Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft attends a news conference during the Web Summit, Europe's largest technology conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, November 3, 2022. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Microsoft's president met Britain's finance minister for talks on Tuesday and said he would try to work with regulators to seek UK approval for its $69 billion purchase of "Call of Duty" maker Activision Blizzard.

British competition authorities blocked the takeover in April in a shock decision which jeopardises gaming's biggest-ever deal, drawing a furious response from the two groups who questioned whether the country remained open to tech firms.

Microsoft has since appealed and its president, Brad Smith, met British finance minister Jeremy Hunt for talks in London on Tuesday, a government source said, without giving details.

Also in London, Smith told the techUK Tech Policy Leadership conference he was hopeful the outcome could change, adding: "I'm in search of solutions."

"If regulators have concerns we want to address them. If there are problems, we want to solve them. If the UK wants to impose regulatory requirements that go beyond those in the EU, we want to find ways to fulfil them."

Smith was also scheduled to meet officials from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) during his visit to London this week, according to reports.

He said he had always been "bullish on the United Kingdom as a great place to live, to learn, to build".

Smith criticised Britain after the CMA veto, saying it would shake confidence in the UK as a destination for tech.

The EU approved the Activision deal in May after it accepted remedies put forward by Microsoft that were broadly comparable to those it proposed in the UK.

Microsoft has also appealed the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's action seeking to block the deal after the agency said it would suppress competition.

The British appeal is due to be heard next month, with a verdict likely in August or September.

Smith focused his remarks on Tuesday on how AI should be governed, saying it should not be the sole responsibility of tech companies. "It needs to be subject to the rule of law," he said, adding: "And we will need regulations to govern it."

Microsoft and its partner OpenAI were already using a safety board to review the features and standards of their AI models before they were deployed, he said, and such an approach could be replicated more widely.

"Just like an aeroplane, just like a bus, just like an automobile, a powerful model will probably need to pass such a review," he said. "And it ... probably should get a licence.

"And of course, that means there needs to be a licensor in a position to make that decision."

(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Piper; Writing by Sarah Young; Editing by Kate Holton and Alexander Smith)

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