Is courtesy of Niklas Blanchard, who says: “Here’s an interesting comparison, but I defy you to counter it: Google (Labs) is the modern-day Bell Labs.”
Bell Labs was the R&D unit of the old AT&T monopoly. It’s not clear that it was a particularly productive investment for AT&T’s shareholders, but they came up with a lot of important stuff, including C & C++, UNIX, and the laser. Google, similarly, is plowing a very large share of its very considerable revenue into financing new ideas rather than just rebating it as dividends. The jury’s still out on the merits of this as a business strategy (and it’s really a boring “only time will tell” kind of scenario) but it’s already given the world a lot of neat products.