Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes
Aug 02, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Keeping up with the discussion on the Blackboard patent as Bill Fitzgerald gives us our headline of the day (via McToonish).

Alfred Essa reports that he has contacted EFF "to see if we can get the Blackboard Patent listed under the Patent Busting Project" and advises "if any readers have connections to the EFF, let's get this on their radar." He also cites Brad Fell on abolishing software patents.

Dave Cormier continues to try to pull together an online meeting on the issue (but his emails to Blackboard are bouncing) and meanwhile has posted the link to the proposed Canadian patent. But even if Blackboard representatives don't show, it might be a good idea to be in on the Sunday Ed Tech Talk meeting and to let your voice be heard.

The Wikipedia page of prior art, mentions Feldstein, is gaining steam. Get your contributions in. He also references James Farmer's patent information page in his eLibrary, but it was so slow as to be unreadable.

Trey Martindale offers a short remark and links to the Slashdot discussion. Not surprisingly, the Slashdotters are not amused. As guisar writes, "I hope that not only are these patents denied but that Blackboard and WebCT get tied up in litigation until they go Chapter 11. If any market should be supportive of Open Source, I think the on-line learning marketplace is a natural. Having Blackboard and WebCT dominate is not good for us." Now there's some publicity money just can't buy.

Scott Leslie, who was on holiday when the story broke (hey, at least you weren't in Bogota!) comments "If you can beat them, sue them, eh?" He lists some prior art and adds, "at Edutools we can actually show a continuous development of the feature set that we use to compare these products from 1996 until our current one."

Meanwhile, ATS Blog cites a Moodle discussion and comments, "It is sometimes disturbing to watch the trends in e-learning in the United States vs. Australia, Canada, or Europe."

On Desire2Blog Barry Dahl writes, "Earlier I said I was not a hater. Oops, turns out that I HATE Blackboard." Heh. Michael Feldstein (who showed up with comments in a locked-down Chronicle article today) links to Blackboard's new defensive FAQ and asks "is Blackboard feeling the heat already?" At least the Chronicle covered it - the rest of the education press - University Business, Insider Higher Ed, eSchool News, all of them, are missing in action.

There were also short posts from Rich Schweir, Robert Paterson, Will Richardson, George Siemens and Graham Attwell.

One competitor that appears to be relatively unscathed by the fray is the open source product ELGG. Joan Vinall-Cox writes, "I believe that this is the corporate system about to topple from its own weight. I teach using an Elgg Community blog and a course wiki. I used to use WebCT. I prefer the blog and wiki as teaching tools; they're simpler to use, much, much cheaper, and students learn how to use software they might encounter again in their futures." And Harold Jarche notes that ELGG does not contain any of the 44 features claimed in the Blackboard patent.

I have wonder whether it wasn't really the best time for NIIT to acquire Element K. Heh. Total: 545
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Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

Don't get me wrong, I hope Blackboard's patent efforts fail...and I believe they untimatley will fail. However, it is difficult for me to feel any sympathy for projects like Moodle who claim to be "open source" only to create a business monolopy off the efforts of the open source community. If Blackboard is "bad" is Moodle any better? See very recent discussions below: [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

hee hee... i have a feeling i know who posted the above moodle links. I believe that was a misunderstanding but, anyways. That bill fitzgerald link is the funniest thing i've read in a long time. dave c. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

I think most people are still in "reactive mode" and reeling over Blackboard's claim of patent over 44 core functions of e-learning and LMS systems. However, this blog post: shows that we may have other battles to fight, in addition to the patent already granted. By the look of it, Blackboard have also applied for patents covering things like embedded HTML editors, multi-language LMSes, and a modular, extensible LMS architecture (not sure if this is functionality or conent... if the latter, it would be a claim on Learning Objects?) We may need to systematically go through the Wikipedia history of VLEs that is being compiled, and find out what features were added to various products at what times, in order to address the specific claims set out in Blackboard's patents. I'm also aware of a number of educators who are busily contacting various educational and e-learning organisations worldwide to begin coordinating a large-scale, united response to Blackboard's recent actions. Blackboard's actions go to the heart of our industry. Their claims of patent are a barrier to innovation and development of e-learning systems and potentially undermine the equity and availability of online learning for students. Leonard Low [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

I'm proposing we set up an online group that will help coordinate countermeasures against Blackboard's patents, and coordinate support for any organisation that Blackboard attempts legal action against. The name I'm suggesting for this group is WITE: the Society for the Welfare of Information Technology in Education. If you would like to join WITE, please request membership of this Wiki: ...and in your request, also request membership of WITE. If you would like to be a community leader, please also mention you would like to join the "WITE Board". :) [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

To say I am infuriated is to put it mildly. Several of us developed a prior work in 1996-1997 school year. We never saw Bb, Real Education, WebCT or any other product. That was about the time a lot of us got the same ideas.....that educational materials can be put on the web and that most faculty aren't going to learn HTML. So, the notion of creating a database with a template front end basically was/is the only way to do this. It is beyond me how one can patent anything that is "obvious". I think the "obvious" argument is the more persuasive one. If you want to post a hyperlink and you don't want to learn HTML or a web editor then the only way to do that is to create a webform with two textboxes....the first houses the URL, the second houses the target and have all of this backend into a database. There are no other ways to do this. If you put 15 programmers in the room they would all come up with the same way to do it. Bb is even claiming that selecting test items out of a test item bank is theirs. How many test creation tools are there that use the same concept? Teachers have been creating test banks for years. What did Bb do that was so innovative? If they want to copyright their code I have no problem with that. But patent an idea that is obvious? That totally defies logic. I wonder what the patent office was smoking? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

Somebody around here said that Bb was an they aren't. What did they do before anybody else, except apply for a patent on obvious work? There is a lot of prior art (I created some) on posting documents and creating hyperlinks. There was a java chat tool floating around well before they existed. There were testing tools around since the early 80s and web based in the early 90s. The notion of database driven applications has been around since webforms were placed into the HTML specification. They created eLearning space just like Microsoft created the OS.....uh huh...yeah, right. They have done no innovation. And, btw, if you want to break their chat tool, just put in an html tag. Really messes it up. I told them about it 3 years ago and they haven't changed a line of code on it. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Granted Patent on Series of Tubes

I feel Blackboard has a monopoly in the market. We are talking about education not money. Any educational company whose focus is making money does not need to be an educational company! [Comment] [Permalink]

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