41 figures From the BlackBoard Patent

Mike Malloch, eLearning 2.0, Aug 04, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

For full coverage of the Blackboard patent story, please see this Special Section of OLDaily.

Mike Malloch has performed a valuble service, extracting the 41 figures in the Blackboard patent and posting them on Flickr.

He adds, "let me just say that having spent the summer of 1998 in BlackBoard's DC offices (seconded there from the UK to do some IMS work on metadata), and having spent a lot of that time interacting with the architects of BlackBoards subsequent systems, I know that these guys did not 'invent' the VLE, and that they knew they weren't 'inventing' the VLE."

I should point out, in response to his comments, that it's not simply the learning management system that needs to be defended here. Yes, some of us don't care about the LMS - I am among them. I see the future as being some sort of PLE. But what stops a company like Blackboard from coming along and saying they have invented the PLE?

See, the problem is, learning technology has always been a collaborative endeavour by a community of researchers and practitioners, and we have invented, and we have through out practices and our conduct explicitly eeschewed the idea that this domain could ever be owned by one company.

Riina Vuorikari of the FLOSSE Posse calls the Blackboard patent a showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents and reminds readers of the no learning patents campaign against software patents in Europe that has been underway for some time.

Dirk Herr-Hoyman sends this nice set of Blackboard is evil photos, posted on Flickr. You should send your own anti-Blackboard art to Bertbrat on Flickr.

Joseph Hart describes his own experiences with LMSs before Blackboard and posts some of my coverage of the issue. Lanny Arvin finds the patent "weird" and describes his own experiences with products such as FirstClass (which I also used), WebNotes and Allaire Forums (which again I used as well). And Christian Long thinks about patenting learning.

Alfred Essa argues that Blackboard's FAQ is "is, at best, misleading and, at worst, disingenuous." I have other words for it. But following Essa, we can see that while Blackboard's argument may be applied to copyright code, it does not apply to the concept of the LMS. "We know that Desire2Learn didn't copy Blackboard's computer code. We come back then to our original questions, which we still haven't answered." So what does Blackboard think it's protecting that it invented?

Michael Feldstein is translating Backboard's patents into plain English and will post the results soon; "When you see what they are actually claiming to have invented, you will be well and truly gobsmacked." I'm already gobsmacked.

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