Blackboard Demonstrates How to Destroy Things with Patents

By Deane Barker on September 2, 2006

Patent Fight Rattles Academic Computing: A company that markets a “learning management system (LMS)” has been awarded a apparently astoundingly broad patent, and they’ve announced their intention to sue their largest competitor.

Blackboard Inc. has been awarded a patent establishing its claims to some of the basic features of the software that powers online education.

The patent, awarded to the Washington, D.C.-based company in January but announced last month, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion — through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry that helps make its case.

The Wikipedia page mentioned is “History of Virtual Learning Environments” and is designed to prove prior art, with entries in a timeline as far back as 1728.

I browsed the actual patent. It’s long and detailed, but it seems to boil down to about any system that teaches over the Internet. There are some specifics in there, but they explain technical and logical means of accomplishing things like granular access, which is universal to access models in general.

What’s interesting is that the offending company has announced that they do not intend to sue open source LMS apps like Moodle and Sakai, which just proves they’re wielding this patent as nothing more than a hammer to beat their competitors over the head. Why sue one and not the other?

This stuff is so stupid and destructive.



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