The Xerox company now has partnerships with several other firms and government agencies to use printed electronics in pressure-measuring helmets as well as in packaging that can sense pressure, sound, light, acceleration, or temperature. By doing so, it hopes to tap a market for printed electronics that an analyst firm, IDTechex, estimates could reach $45 billion by 2021.
For PARC, the partnerships are signs that open innovation is working. “There are plenty of great ideas at PARC, but you learn early on that execution is often the hard part—execution and timing,” says St. Claire. “It’s something you can say PARC is really starting to understand. You almost have to be as innovative in the commercialization—especially when you have game-changing technologies—as on the technology side.”
PARC, which once served only Xerox, now has an expanding list of technologies in development with outside partners that include Fujitsu, Motorola, NEC Display Solutions, Microsoft, Samsung, SolFocus, and Oracle. The change in strategy has helped turn it from a multimillion-dollar financial sinkhole into a modest, but growing, innovation business. In 2010, it was profitable on revenue of more than $60 million, a spokesman says. PARC, which has 250 employees, is also patenting at a fast clip, with about 150 patents filed per year since 2002.
The focus on doing business, not just having ideas, has also boosted morale, says Teresa Amabile, an organizational psychologist at Harvard Business School. “I’ve talked to a lot of scientists, technicians, and engineers doing R&D inside companies … and the people I talk to at PARC [are] more strongly, intrinsically motivated than the average,” she says. “They are driven by real passions and excitement for the disruptive discoveries they are making, coupled with excitement for seeing what they were doing actually being used in the world. That combination is pretty unusual.”