Japan's government is enlisting top technology companies and universities to determine whether the country should launch its own Internet search engine, an official said Monday, as powerhouses such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. dominate the market.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will convene a study group consisting about 20 Japanese electronics companies and universities on Internet search engines, said Fumihiro Kajikawa, a ministry official in charge of information policies.

The group will hold the first meeting Friday and plans to put together an interim report by March and a final report by July, he said.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., NTT Corp. and the University of Tokyo are among the participants, according to Kajikawa. Electronics makers Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and NEC Corp. will also join.

"The group will look into issues including whether Japan will start its own search engine," he said.

The group plans to look into developing a search engine for pictures, the official added.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported Monday that the government plans to spend tens of millions of dollars for a three-to five year project to develop a search engine beginning in fiscal 2007.

The report said that Japan wants to come up with its own version of search engine to catch up with the American companies that receive high profits from online ad revenues.

Kajikawa could not confirm the report.

"It is not that we want to play against [Google and Yahoo]. We are thinking of something that's unique to Japan," he said.