The Death of Corporate Research Labs

Whither Research Labs: A few people have sent me this blog post on the decline of big research labs. It’s a fascinating explanation of why corporate research departments like GE research and Bell Labs were created from the 1900s to the 1920s, and why they have basically fallen apart. There were two causal factors in them collapsing. The first was the end of antitrust. Corporate labs emerged because big corporations were barred from buying competitors by antitrust laws, so they had to invent new stuff to compete. When antitrust law eroded in the 1980s, so did the need for the big labs. In addition, excessively strong intellectual property protections reduced the incentive to invent new things. After all, why spend money building something new when you can get a better return by hiring a patent attorney to sue you competition?