Edison is credited with the creation of the first corporate research lab. In contrast to corporate R&D activity the research labs have pushed the boundaries of science and engineering and brought to the world the transistor, unix and C, fiber optics communication, Ethernet, cellphones, and even evidence for the Big Bang. These labs were famous for hiring the best and brightest scientists and then basically letting them do their own thing. Some were guided by the needs of the corporation, and others were more free spirited. In the 70s and 80s the perceived value of the labs was eroded and as the corporates found themselves out innovated by the new kids on the block such as Microsoft, Intel, and later Google, Apple and others. The new comers did not have the free wheeling research approach and have typically focused their research activity deep in their technical roadmap.
In the past couple of years this has changed and today many of the new kids have their own corporate research labs. However the new labs resemble Edison Menlow Park more than AT&T Bells lab. The new labs tend to focus on grand projects which aim to disrupt existing markets such as autonomous cars, VR and AR replacement for smart phone, global internet reach or even space travel. The similarity to Edison is that the vision of these labs is laid down by the founders or chief executives of the companies and not by free wheeling scientists. Time will tell if the new breed of labs fare better in scientific research or business outcome than the previous ones.