The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

June - 2007 - issue > Cover Story

Of research and its allies

Aritra Bhattacharya
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Aritra Bhattacharya
Back in 1925, when the (U.S.) Federal government set a 10 percent cap on the profits AT&T could enjoy, the communications company decided to invest the over-and-above ten percent profit into pure research. Born was Bell Labs, its activities a harbinger to the technologies of the future.

Over the years, it has given the world, among other things, the Unix Operating System, C language, and the first single-chip digital signal processor. But the most significant among its contributions has been creation of ecology for research. Following its suit, IBM, HP, Xerox Parc and most recently Microsoft have set up dedicated research labs.

While Xerox Parc Research Labs invented the Mac, IBM Research came up with databases and natural languages for the first time ever in history. Look around and you will notice that none of the innovations, or inventions—if you choose to call them so—that emerged from these labs form, in any way, part of the parent company’s product line. This, since researchers in the labs were given a free rein, and funds to pursue research activities in whatever field they chose. When inventions came about, they were put in the public domain; the characteristic being to enunciate propositions and not architect products.

Years, or even decades later, companies would pick-up certain parts, of the whole of these inventions to create products that won consumers and raked in revenues. It worked well for all parties; researchers got to do what they loved, companies that productized ideas enjoyed the profits, and the Labs came to be famous for the technologies that helped architect those products.

Somewhere along the way, advanced product development got factored into pure research. The citadels of invention in these hugely successful companies started diluting the intensity of research, and focus more on more on innovating in the realms of the parent’s product line. Which was still good. In fact, very good.

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