Monday, May 25, 2009

Sophie, What's the timetable to get erasable paper to market? and Imagine: XEROX University PARC, fixing science ed, SAG at 16% with NO MO' FIRING

PARC basic research and engineering is awesome. It's always been awesome. Maybe the present idea is to find a VC to make a gezillion dollars from erasable paper. see snippet below

Actually, shareholders might be a lot better off. Then Xerox USA can stay focused on executing Color Cube (Qube) and XPS and leveraging the investment in Global and Com Doc. It would also take PARC out of the SAG and free PARC from confused incentives.

Meanwhile the really cool basic research is the thing about purifying water with minimal power requirements. Erasable paper is a global nice to have. Purifying water is a global must have.

Basic Research + Engineering + Product = Money
The underlying problem is that basic research is science. The paradox is that basic research develops fastest when it is freely accessible. But earning money in the old economy is based on limited access.

Even more difficult are the conflicting incentives. How can anyone realistically expect to get anyone at Xerox USA to fast track a technology that could reduce office printing by 40%. Of course as the MPS piece scales it will be great. But until then it just doesn't make sense. The risk is that by the time that happens, it will be too late to get first mover advantage.

MPS is going mainstream now. In a couple of years it will be a mature market. It's much harder to earn money and get to scale in mature markets. I assume that Xerox USA believes that since they have 51% of that market now, they will have it going forward. That kind of value chain thinking blew up GM. It is much too risky for Xerox USA going forward.

And of course, we all know that the nature of science and engineering is that it can be replicated, patent or no patent. In fact once it is patented every smart engineer has studied the patent to figure out how to improve it. What happens when a non office printing company or a start up in Australasia gets focused on this? And then what happens when they make the deal with any of the paper companies that actively on the prowl for ways to restore their margins?

It is a classic "innovator's dilemma." Without the constraints of a legacy business model there will be nothing to hold them back from taking it to scale. That's the well worn path taken by PostScript and the GUI.

Meanwhile, from the world's point of view, if there is technology that could reduce office printing by 40% it should be here now, not later.

As I see it, there are three ways to resolve the paradox.

In the old days the best way was either by collecting rent from a patent or putting tech into a product that could be sold. The risk is too long time to market. With incremental improvements to an existing product line the risk is managed pretty well. But with disruptive basic research it's much too slow. Consider that the basic research for epaper was done at PARC.

Going forward, the best way to get to market fast enough is to partner with an outfit focused on getting it to market. That's why big Pharma depends on small companies to do the basic research. Big Pharma is about having the scale to get it to market.

Basic Research + Students = Money + Basic Research + Teachers
Perhaps the best solution going forward is to set up a University. It's working really well for Stanford and MIT. But Xerox University Parc would focus on the communication part. Stanford is moving in that direction with the D School. XUP could move in that direction from the engineering side. Maybe John Seeley Brown would leave FXPL and come back to sit on the Board of Trustees. The best would be PARC + FXPL = XUP (xerox university parc.)

At any rate, that would open public money and tuition fees for teaching more people to do basic research. It also opens the opportunity to train and support K -12 teachers working so hard to communicate the wonders of science and engineering.

FUJI won't do it. Xerox USA won't do it. They are still struggling with their VCE (value chain economy) dna. UNE (user network economy) dna spreads fastest without the constraint of legacy global communication ecology. That suggests that it's now time for PARC to differentiate and grow separately. The most likely space to grow is in the communication ecology of a University.

You have everything you need except the authority to give recognized degrees. We are now in what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some University in deep financial trouble to do the deal. I'm pretty sure that some part of the University of California system could use your help. Degree granting authority is easy for them, hard for you. Doing awesome basic research and engineering is easy for you, hard for them. Learning is easy for students, hard for teachers.

"Easy for me, hard for you" drives the division of labor and evolution. It should be "win-win-win" and thus pass the "Why wouldn't you do that?" business development/sustainability test.
Hello clouds, hello sky, hello future:
Despite the abundance of web visionaries and start-up kings, one of the most arresting ideas came from the office printing firm, Xerox.

For a company so intimately tied to the printed word, Xerox's chief technology officer Sophie Vandebroek was resolutely upbeat about the future, even in an age of electronic information.

'We noticed that more than 45% of what is printed in a day in the office or home goes into the recycling bin, or worse, the waste basket,' she told me.

'What our researchers came up with is a paper that you print today and then in a couple of days, it's blank again. You can put it back into your printer and print again.'"

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