Thursday, January 22, 2009

Xerox PARC: Still Making a Difference -- Seeking Alpha

read at Seeking Alpha:

Kevin Maney gets it. AP, anyone?
"When many observers of the tech scene hear 'Xerox PARC,' they tend to think -- oh yeah, those guys who let Steve Jobs steal their operating system for the Mac and otherwise invented a lot of cool stuff that never paid off for, well, Xerox (XRX).

Which is, actually, all true. But there's more. The legendary lab has been in the news lately because Microsoft (MSFT) bought a search technology company called Powerset for an alleged $100 million. Powerset was built on technology licensed from PARC. The lab has also won some attention in the past week for unveiling a way to print documents so the ink disappears in a day, allowing the paper to be reused. Sure, a lot of people want to keep printouts, but if it's, say, a restaurant menu that will change tomorrow -- this could save a lot of paper.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped in at the lab and talked with its president, Mark Bernstein. PARC these days operates as a partially-owned subsidiary of Xerox -- a stand-alone business that has to make money by licensing its inventions and spinning off companies. It's been getting into all kinds of areas, like using its competence in laser technology to develop better diagnostic tools for blood."

All good. 75% of the revenue is post sales. Licensing is nice, but how does it get us more clicks?
Bernstein seemed particularly proud of an invention unveiled this year called a "spiral concentrator." It seems simple, but is based on complex, precise physics. Water flows through a spiral of tubes set up so that polluting particles are forced to the sides of the tubes. The particles get trapped and clean water comes out -- a cheap, low-energy way to purify water. "That one excites me," Bernstein said.
So how about we partner with someone - GE? Gates Foundation? The Federal Government?
And roll out clean water around the planet. Sounds like we could do well, by doing lots and lots of good. An entreprenerial startup? Someone in India? We know people in India.

And until that turns into the best infrastructure business of all, we keep focusing on clicks.

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