Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Bell Labs may seem like a national treasure, but I don't think the U.S. government would put it there"

The Star-Ledger on talks between Lucent and Alcatel about Bell Labs:

While its focus is inventing products for parent Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs' government ties are epitomized by President Jeong Kim, a former submariner who has advised the Central Intelligence Agency.

So it's hard to picture Bell Labs flying a French flag. Yet the labs--birthplace of the transistor, lasers and satellite communications--are one reason some analysts think Paris-based Alcatel is pursuing a merger with Murray Hill-based Lucent.

And many experts actually doubt that national security concerns would hinder a merger. At least, not on this side of the Atlantic. Alcatel's minority stake in the French defense contractor Thales -- and French labor unrest that would make merger layoffs extremely unpopular -- may prove to be thornier issues.

"Lucent doesn't do that much work with the government. Bell Labs may seem like a national treasure, but I don't think the U.S. government would put it there," said Steve Levy, a longtime telecom analyst.

Lucent and the larger Alcatel last week confirmed talks about a "merger of equals," reprising discussions that collapsed in 2001. Combined, they would be a $25 billion colossus, the world's biggest telecom-equipment maker. Alcatel's board of directors is scheduled to weigh the matter tomorrow.

A merger is likely to come before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which advises the President whether to block foreign investments deemed risky to national security, the economy or communications privacy. Of more than 1,570 foreign acquisitions scrutinized since 1988, only one company--a Chinese enterprise that pursued a U.S. aerospace parts maker in 1990--has been turned down.

Overseen by the Treasury Department and comprising 11 other agencies, the committee didn't oppose a Dubai company's bid -- recently withdrawn after a public furor -- to operate U.S. seaports.


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