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Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 08/12/2011

Innovator of the week: Verizon vs. Uncle Sam

VIEW THE GALLERY | Take a look at the past contenders for innovator-of-the-week.

It’s Friday. That means it’s time to vote for the innovator of the week. Even though the markets took investors on a wild ride following the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States’ credit rating, there were some notable developments on the innovation front.

That leads us to this week’s match-up between Verizon and the U.S. government. Continue past the jump to read about how these two made news this week and to cast your vote for the innovator of the week.

Verizon: On Wednesday, Verizon announced the opening of a new Application Innovation Center in San Francisco. The center brings together application developers and Verizon staff to “create, optimize and polish their ideas,” according to the company’s press release. The center features office and lab space as well as a seamless nine-pane touch-screen wall that features information about existing Verizon applications.

Verizon has an innovation center in Massachusetts dedicated to its LTE platform. The center provides assistance with commercialization and, for some projects, seed capital via its 4G Venture Forum. The new Applications Innovation Center will serve as the LTE center’s West Coast sister site, providing Silicon Valley developers with tools and access to the company’s yet-to-be-released products.

Verizon’s wireless company has grown substantially, fueling a more than $27 billion profit in the second quarter of 2011. However, its legacy services, including its landline phone service, have suffered as customers turn to cell phones and voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services.

Contract renegotiations between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union have fallen apart, and on Sunday 45,000 Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. went on strike. The disagreement is over Verizon’s proposal to have wire-line employees agree to eliminate two paid holidays, make raises dependent on job performance, freeze pensions and have the union contribute $100 a month towards health care premiums for each employee.

As of the writing of this post, the strike had yet to end.

Why choose Verizon this week, you ask? We chose Verizon because even as it struggles to maintain its legacy systems, the company continues to make strides in both expanding its wireless product offerings and developer resources.

Uncle Sam:The federal government was busy this week, when it came to innovation. Its premier defense research and development arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), made news with the test launch of a new hypersonic aircraft. As the Post’s Jason Ukman reports:

The ultimate goal is to develop a technology that would allow the U.S. military to respond to threats anywhere in the world within an hour — a capability that U.S. officials have said is necessary to deter against terrorist networks and other adversaries.

But the test didn’t exactly as DARPA had planned. It appears the agency has lost track of the aircraft, losing contact with it during its highly-anticipated test flight. This isn’t the first time DARPA has met with failure on this front. The agency has been trying to develop a 13,000-miles-per-hour craft for years.

But Uncle Sam’s attempts at innovation don’t end there. Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa wrote on Thursday that the National Science Foundation’s new public-private partnership, Innovation Corps (I-Corps), has the potential to plug significant holes in university professors’ knowledge of how to bring their inventions to market.

Wadhwa writes:

I am optimistic that I-Corps will be a game changer. In the long term, it will likely produce returns that are orders of magnitude greater than the $5 million per year that will be spent. That’s because it addresses one of the core problems of the university research system, narrowing the gap between science and innovation.

This all comes as a new report shows that government could do a better job of encouraging federal employees to innovate. Data provided by the Partnership for Public Service and the Hay Group shows a minority—39 percent—of government employees who responded to the survey agreed that “creativity and innovation are rewarded” in the workplace. (The Washington Post and the Partnership have a content-sharing relationship.)

As the Post’s Joe Davidson writes:

The report looks at what drives federal innovation, and it’s worth noting what did not top the list: money. An employee’s salary, workload and resources were less important than somewhat less-tangible factors.

Both the the government and Verizon are large organizations, and each took a significant step towards fostering innovation by developing new products and initiatives. However, both have work to do, of different types and to different degrees, when it comes to satisfying the needs of their workers.

By  |  04:00 PM ET, 08/12/2011

Categories:  Business, Innovator of the Week, Invention, Research, Technology

 
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