Mercury Interactive Corp. announced that it has appointed a special committee to look into prior stock options grants.

The business software company, which also announced that this matter has been the subject of an informal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission since November, added that the inquiries could cause it to restate prior results.

Mercury noted, however, that it cannot yet determine whether a restatement will be necessary, and if so, the years affected and the amounts involved, but added that it likely will not need to restate revenues, according to Reuters. The wire service also noted that the company’s options expenses are among the tech sector’s largest.

In addition, the company estimated that it incurred roughly $1 million of unanticipated expenses in the second quarter for its internal investigation and the SEC inquiry.

A number of companies have become the subject of an SEC probe into the timing of their stock option grants.

In March, business software maker Siebel Systems Inc. disclosed that the SEC had issued an order of investigation. A year earlier, Siebel — as well as Cisco Systems Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. — were mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article on the early stages of the probe. The Journal reported that the SEC was looking into the practice of granting options to executives shortly before announcing positive news, which would give the value of the options a quick boost.

And in December, chip maker Analog Devices Inc. announced that the SEC had launched an inquiry of the company’s granting of stock options to officers and directors over the last five years.

According to proxy research firm Glass Lewis, 16,500 option grants were made to executives in 2003 and 2004. One week after the grants, the underlying share price of 289 grants had climbed 25 percent; one month later, 1,422 grants had experienced such a rise in their underlying price.

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