This NYT story reports that Alcatel is negotiating to buy Lucent, the communications equipment maker spun off by AT&T a few years back. It’s not mentioned until the end of the article, and then only in passing, that the deal includes “the research and development unit Bell Laboratories, an intellectual powerhouse”.
That’s putting it mildly, at least in historical terms. Eleven researchers have shared six Nobel Prizes for work done while they were at Bell Labs, among many other awards. As well as the transistor, the photovoltaic cell , the LED, CCD and much more, Bell Labs created both Unix and C. It even had its own economics journal (the Bell Journal, which later became the Rand Journal). It was truly a unique institution.
Of course, all this was cut back drastically with deregulation and the breakup of the old AT&T monopoly, and even more so after the Lucent spinoff. Still, the passing of Bell Labs out of US ownership is worth recording. It remains to be seen whether Alcatel will follow the logic of the market and kill Bell Labs altogether, or make a quixotic attempt at reviving some of the glories of the past.