Back in the day when “network” meant “telephone,” AT&T either directly or indirectly controlled virtually the whole thing. Bell Laboratories served as the R&D arm of the organization, developing the equipment that Western Electric would produce for AT&T. In addition to the very practical work in things like insulators for cables (which are a big deal when the cable is running under the Atlantic Ocean), there was a small group who conducted the basic work that led to discoveries such as the transistor, practical lasers, charge coupled devices (CCDs), and information theory. Bell Labs built the first communication satellites – Telstar.
While it could be argued that AT&T did not reap all of the benefits possible from its inventions, the way that Bell Labs operated presents some useful lessons for organizations looking to improve their innovative capabilities: