Ethernet founders bemoan lack of innovation investment


28 May 2013

The world of information networks may be about to celebrate the achievement of inventing Ethernet 40 years ago, but the early pioneers of are wondering where the next funding is coming from.

At the NetEvents conference in San Francisco to mark the anniversary, well known network old timers lined up to tell the conference they were worried that the dash for bottom line cash by impatient venture capitalists could prevent future innovations coming to the fore.

When Ethernet was invented at Xerox-owned PARC, the location enjoyed government investment and good tax breaks, and was a mecca for the great and the good who wanted to concentrate on innovation rather than money. As Bob Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet, puts it, "I didn’t make money out of inventing Ethernet, I made money after learning how to sell Ethernet."




He went on to found 3Com to sell Ethernet network cards to do that, and fellow PARC luminaries and company heads said they were worried about a lack of cash to fund the "discovery stage" of innovation development.

Network inventor Bill English said: "Today our government is at a stage where everything is played out as to how it is seen politically, which is a shame."

"It is also too devolved, as there are no chief figureheads where those who need funding can go to."

Bill Spencer, former head of Xerox research and PARC, said: "When Bell Labs was broken up [for anti-trust reasons in 1984] much of the scientific research lead that important organisation had in the world was destroyed, although it may have been done for other good reasons."

Spencer agreed with JLabs CEO Judy Estrin, who said: "Government funding is down on the basic research to enable to invent and then try and scale it like at PARC,  which leads to companies like 3Com and Bridge Networks being formed."

She said: "Funding is falling on the universities and large corporations and we are missing a piece as a result, as corporations and VCs need to focus on their short term bottom lines."

Paul Grams, of the exploration technology directorate at NASA, said: "A five year return on investments is now the norm, but we need more funding on basic research to help establish more long-term growth."

The funding misery was further echoed by Yogan Dalal, partner emeritus at the Mayfield Fund. Dalal said: "Entrepreneurship is drying up the well of innovation. When I was at PARC we had free rein over what we wanted to do, it wasn’t about simply commercialisation and money – we need to get back to the discovery mode of research."


IDG News Service

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