The rise and fall of the industrial R&D lab

Ben Southwood:

Once, small firms centred on inventors were responsible for most of our innovation. Larger firms might buy or exploit these steps forwards, but they did not typically make them. And then for a brief period, this changed: many of the best new products, tools, and ideas came from research labs within large corporations. This brief period also happened to be the era when scientific, technological, and economic productivity sped forward at its fastest ever clip. Yet almost as soon as it arrived, the fruitful period was over and we returned to a situation where small companies and small-business-like teams at universities developed innovations outside of large companies and sold them in a market for ideas. Though we might enjoy the innovation created by small flexible firms, we should not dismiss the contributions made by large corporate labs. The corporate lab may be creeping back, but aggressively prosecuting antitrust against large firms growing organically through in-house research could easily snuff this spark out.