Hi all, This is a great comment thread -- really! A few clarifications:
PARC was not sold off but is an independent subsidiary (incorporated in 2002). This means we work with multiple other clients -- from Fortune 500 companies (including Xerox) to startups to government agencies -- practicing an open innovation model where we provide custom R&D services, technology, expertise, IP, and more.
Our clients commercialize our technology for their markets -- we have never directly commercialized our own tech. But because we work closely with them, and have our own business development embedded inside the company, we get to bring that commercial knowledge in not to mention carry it across different domains (but protected for different "fields of use" for different clients/applications).
Indeed, one huge advantage corporate R&D has over university and government labs is its industry focus. So you know how to turn visions into realities because you know how to work within industry constraints to find solutions. But we also get to use government funding to help jump start the really early stage stuff.
And yes, we are very different from a patent troll! We're also not just contract research. We invest in our own research and development, and we create IP strategically (measured not just by patent number but in portfolio coverage and reduction to practice), and our clients who co-develop with us leverage that IP to reduce their own risk (say, from doing it alone internally) and accelerate their time to market. These aren't just buzzwords: this is make-or-break for a lot of companies!
Not sure there has ever been "pure" research for research's sake... Even since its inception, Xerox PARC had the founding charter to invent the "office of the future" (which it did). And today it's multiple futures: networking of the future (see for example www.parc.com/ccn), cleantech of the future, novel electronics of the future, and so on. But the secret sauce (diverse disciplines, industry focus, etc.) is the same.
If you're interested in learning more on how we resolve the seeming paradox of "business"... "breakthrough" (our tagline today is The Business of Breakthroughs), do check out some of our posts at http://blogs.parc.com/blog/topics/business-of-innovation/ -- we'd love your comments!