Community Forum on DOPA and the Blackboard Patent

Dave Cormier, Jeff Lebow, Ed Tech Talk, Aug 07, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

For continuing coverage of the Blackboard patent story, be sure to check this special page.

Yesterday's major activity was a Community Forum on DOPA and the Blackboard Patent held on Ed Tech Talk (view the chat transcript, listen to the MP3 audio, part 1). Also read a summary of the meeting by Sharon Peters.

"Part 1 of our Community forum includes an overview of these two critical issues, presentation of a message sent by BlackBoard CEO, Michael Chasen, reaction from Desire2Learn Director of Marketing, John McLeod, and commentary from Michael Feldstein and Stephen Downes. More audio, including our break out discussions and a chat with Moodle founder, Martin Dougiamas, will be uploading soon."

The Blackboard message in particular attracted a lot of attention as Chasen says "We [Blackboard] certainly did not invent e-learning or course management systems."

Chasen may say this but the words of the patent claims themselves paint a different picture. Afred Essa offers that picture in pictures as he describes the patent claims in detail, commenting finally that "Once we cut through the pseudo-technical mumbo jumbo it's apparent that there is no there there. If Blackboard gets away with this it will be one of the great hoaxes of this century."

He argues "the patent grant is breathtaking in its sweep and goes well beyond what we normally associate with course management systems or virtual learning environments. In addition to the core technologies associated with a VLE, the Blackboard patent potentially covers any infrastructure and integration elements when used in the context of course delivery."

Also yesterday came the first sign that the case may hit the mainstream press as the Times of India filed a report titled Blackboard patent may hit e-learning in India. The article notes, " The patent is already applicable in US, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Its sweep spans every little bit of online education including processes like how courses are offered and managed. The patent is now pending in other countries including India."

Desire2Blog has posted a couple of items, including one with the PDF from the actual Kitchener Record newspaper (competing with an article on Sudoku toilet paper) and another highlighting a forthcoming interview with Desire2Learn CEO John Baker.

Michael Feldstein offers a couple lines of argument against the patent, including one showing that it stifles innovation, as in the case of the IMS common cartridge standard, and another from the Sloan-C listserv to the effect that learning management systems were consciously copied from more generic software performing the same functions.

Joseph Hart summarizes initiatives being taken to counter the Blackboard patent, including a new one by Gerd Kortemeyer, from the Sloan Consortium community, who announces, "I have started a document at A Literature and Systems Review of Prior Art to US Patent 6,988,138.

And to wrap up for today, don't miss Bucaneer Bonk and His Belated Blackboard the Pirate Top Ten List, who points out that Microsoft is a major Blackboard investor (and so Blackboard must wonder what Microsoft is doing in partnership with Moodle). Says Bonk, "Scurvy dogs! Either way, people like me will never promote them again (as if we ever have). The negative fallout of tis will be enormous. I do not think that the (dare I say 'idiots' for threat of a lawsuit when I post tis ter my blog) charmin people at Blackboard the Pirate realize it."

Which raises the question: is Blackboard so committed to this path it cannot back out? Is it condemned to be regarded in the same breath as companies like SCO and ContentGuard, viewed as a scavenger and a rogue? No - it can still back away, rescind its lawsuit, and renounce its claim (as Chasen has already done in his message) to all of e-learning. There is time, but for Blackboard, I feel that time is perilously short before the storm actually hits where it hurts.

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