(Dow Jones) As financial advisors increase their use of exchange-traded funds, money managers are moving further into the low-cost arena, laying the groundwork to launch additional active and passive funds.

Eaton Vance Corp. (EV) said Monday it had purchased the assets of Managed ETFs LLC, a developer of intellectual property in the ETF field. Managed ETFs, which was co-founded by ETF expert Gary Gastineau, holds assets, including patents, that could help provide more efficient trading of index ETFs and facilitate the development of actively managed ETFs, Eaton Vance said.

Boston-based Eaton Vance asked the Securities and Exchange Commission in March for exemptions that would allow it to offer actively managed fixed-income ETFs.

Last week, Neuberger Berman filed with the SEC for an exemption that would permit it to launch an active ETF that may invest in stocks or fixed-income securities traded in U.S. or foreign markets, as well as foreign currencies, shares of other ETFs and shares of money-market funds, among other investments. It joins a long list of companies seeking to launch actively managed funds, including Alliance Bernstein LP, Legg Mason Inc. (LM), Janus Capital Group Inc. (JNS) and J.P. Morgan.

Also, Russell Investments, which filed in April and June to launch its own ETFs, last month filed to launch five more. It now has 33 ETFs in registration, according to Strategic Insight.

"You've got a lot of active-management firms that have been around for a long period that have sat back and watched this ETF evolution kind of grow," says Tom Lydon, president of Global Trends Investments, a registered investment advisor and founder of ETFTrends.com. "Now that we're a little shy of $1 trillion in assets in the U.S. and more than 1,000 ETFs, you have big Wall Street brands that may have missed the boat."

"They're trying to figure out ways that they can jump into the sand box," he says.

So far, there's been a lot of talk about actively managed ETFs, but very little traction, according to Lydon. PIMCO is the biggest, with four actively managed ETFs with more than $500 million in assets.

Scott Burns, director of ETF research at investment research firm Morningstar Inc., notes that the SEC earlier this month gave Van Eck permission to launch an actively managed ETF. Van Eck, which runs the Market Vectors ETFs, first applied for so-called exemptive relief in 2008.

Shortly after Van Eck got the nod, J.P. Morgan Investment Management Inc. filed an amendment to its application to launch an active ETF. The new filing says its fund won't use options, futures or swaps. Earlier this year, the SEC said it was reviewing the use of derivatives in relief filings.

Because of the long approval process, it can take five or six years for an ETF to go from an initial filing to the marketplace and build a two- to three-year track record, says Burns. Many firms are likely filing just to keep their options open, he said. "But when you start to see people starting to make moves like Eaton Vance did, you start to get a signal that this is serious," he said.

The rise of the fee-based registered investment advisor does play into it, Burns said. "The ability to buy an actively managed fund without having to pay 12b(1) or other marketing fees appeals to the fee-based advisor," he said.

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