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It is no secret that in tough economic times, corporate spending on research and development often takes a hit. So it should be no surprise that Technology Reviews annual survey of R&D expenditures by 150 top public companies reveals a mixed picture.

Spending levels at some of the worlds largest research-oriented organizations, including Microsoft and Siemens, continued to rise. But at a number of other companiesparticularly those within the economically troubled telecommunications and semiconductor sectorsspending shrank. Our Corporate R&D Scorecard shows that the picture is most dismal in telecommunications. The situation was slightly better at top semiconductor manufacturers Intel and Texas Instruments, both of which reported modest cuts in R&D budgets. Corporate frugality extended to other industries as well: a number of the traditional research powerhouses3M and DuPont, for examplealso trimmed budgets.

But statistics never tell the whole story. And although the usual practice in a recession is for companies to focus on short-term incremental advances to existing product lines, Technology Review uncovered no shortage of speculative research efforts that, if they succeed, could revolutionize whole industries.

To highlight this point, we have chosen to complement the scorecard with profiles of four high-risk research efforts. These projects, which break the corporate mold of focusing research sharply on existing business and bottom line results, demonstrate corporate risk taking at its best. At Microsoft, Michael Freedman and his fledgling quantum-computing research group are rethinking the basics of computation; and at General Motors, researchers are exploring advanced fuel-cell designs that could revolutionize the notion of a car. At General Electric, a nanotechnology group aiming to redesign advanced ceramics is using seashells as its inspiration. And at Hitachi in Japan, researchers are hoping to apply brain-imaging technology to improve how people, including newborn infants, learn.

These investigations cover a broad range of technologies. But they have one feature in common: the ambition to develop disruptive technologies that will transform their companiesand have a lasting impact on the world.

Download the Corporate R&D Scorecard partial list.

We have chosen to complement the scorecard with profiles of four high-risk research efforts. These projects, which break the corporate mold of focusing research sharply on existing business and bottom line results, demonstrate corporate risk taking at its best.

Microsoft: Quantum Computing

GM: Electricity Producing Vehicles

Hitachi: Advanced Brain Imaging

GE: Nano Ceramics

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