Last month, a small Norwegian company called Thinfilm Electronics and PARC, the storied Silicon Valley research lab, jointly showed off a technological first—a plastic film that combined both printed transistors and printed digital memory.
Such flexible electronics could be an important component of future products, such as food packaging that senses and record temperatures, shock-sensing helmets, as well as smart toys. But the story of how PARC’s technology—the printed transistors—wound up paired with memory technology from an obscure Norwegian company also provides a window onto a 10-year struggle by Xerox to transform the way it commercializes R&D ideas.
For most of its 40-year history, PARC (for Palo Alto Research Center) was as famous for squandering new technologies as it was for inventing them. The mouse, the graphical user interface, and the drop-down menu were all born at PARC—but it was Apple and Microsoft that commercialized them and made them cornerstone inventions of the PC industry.
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