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HP and Dell are not the best examples to use. HP has under its previous CEO dropped its R&D budget to a suicidal level, and Dell has never been a technology developer. There are plenty of other examples in the computer industry who would be better demonstrations of why the U.S. is still economically powerful. Cisco and EMC for example, have incredible internal (U.S.-based) development organizations. Not to mention Google, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon, etc. which are not just software companies, but pretty powerful forces in the changing global social environment.

Despite our economic problems and questionable politics, if the metric is global influence, the U.S. is still up there...

by asdf on Mon Dec 13th, 2010 at 09:04:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of these do very little real R&D. Or if they do it's poor quality.

Microsoft's last decade has been an epic history of constant R&D failure. Successful MS-branded R&D, like Kinect, was actually bought in from outside.

Apple plays this game too. Apple is far more successful as a packaging, marketing and industrial design corporate than as an R&D factory. Apple's two key skills are being a monopoly that can span different market segments and link them together, and collaging ideas that have been developed to a reasonable level of polish by third parties.

Amazon finished most of its critical systems development a decade ago. The only new product is a scalable server business, and that's not exactly on the technical edge. Likewise Kindle and ePub which have been around as ideas for a decade or so. (I was talking to my then-publisher about ebooks in 1998.)

eBay is also stuck around 2000, and the software seriously sucks. But it has a de facto monopoly, and there's no real incentive to develop it further.

Google does real R&D but its product labs are spread around the world.

The fact that HP's R&D was raped by Fiorina and Dell is a packager is evidence of the contrary - a lack of serious interest in R&D in most of corporate America.

What the US has is a de facto monopoly in many areas - search engines, core networking, e-commerce, desktop software, and so on.

But the corporations that own the monopolies are actually multinationals. And creating a monopoly is one of the best ways to end useful innovation. You're often left with something that looks like R&D, but most of the time it produces non-threatening incremental rather than dynamic change. (See also Adobe, Intel, and so on.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Dec 13th, 2010 at 09:35:06 PM EST
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If you carefully examine MicroSoft you'll find all of their breakthrough products were bought or developed outside of the company.

Msdos?  The product that made the company what it is today?  Bought from Seattle Computer Products.

Excel?  Bought.

Windows?  Developed at PARC (1970-1975,) developers hired by Apple for the Lisa (started in 1978,) and MicroSoft copied it and jumped in with Windows 3.0 ... in 1990.  

There are some first class people doing first class work but management insistence on a 3 month pay-back time horizon shoots the ability to sit and think and fail.  Which is the sina qua non of research.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Dec 13th, 2010 at 10:11:21 PM EST
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There are some first class people doing first class work but management insistence on a 3 month pay-back time horizon shoots the ability to sit and think and fail.  Which is the sina qua non of research.
You could say the same about academia - in this case the payback being publication.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 14th, 2010 at 04:08:09 AM EST
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Nah, academia has a payback horizon of about 12 months.

Besides, one of the dirty little secrets of publication is that as long as your paper is intelligible, you can usually find a journal that will publish it after a couple of tries. In a pinch, you can submit it as a conference poster. So there are safety valves for failed projects, although of course they should not be called upon too often.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Dec 14th, 2010 at 04:19:33 AM EST
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This is pretty much dead-on.

Looking only at big companies doesn't really do much though.  I think most of the real innovation in America is done at universities.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 16th, 2010 at 09:14:33 AM EST
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