American businesses are largely coasting on the groundbreaking innovations that came out of Bell Labs in the mid-20th century, writes Jon Gertner. Transistors, solar cells, lasers and communications satellites were all developed by Bell researchers, thanks to an approach that melded foundational and theoretical research with product-oriented R&D. "Bell Labs was sometimes caricatured as an ivory tower. But it is more aptly described as an ivory tower with a factory downstairs," Gertner explains.

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