The Patent Crisis Widens with New Attacks

Alfred Essa, The Nose, Aug 21, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

As usual, you can obtain a full background on the Blackboard patent issue here.

And the issue, argues Alfred Essa, has widened into a full-blown crisis. "We are now in a full blown Hot War that threatens all software development, commercial and open source. Blackboard's offensive patent attack against Desire2Learn is only one among many emerging lawsuits that will soon rock the entire software industry. FireStar recently filed a lawsuit (also in East Texas) against Red Hat for the use of the principle of Object Relational Mapping in Hibernate (developed by JBoss), a popular component of Java applications.... In another patent case a small open source developer has been attacked for his model railroad software. Bob Jacobsen developed the JMRI model-railroad control software which he graciously distributes for free along with full souce code. Mr. Jacobsen was recently sent an invoice for $200,000 by Michael A. Katzer and his company, KAM."

He also reports that Desire2Learn has "selected Foley&Lardner, LLC s as their lead counsel in the patent litigation with Blackboard. According to John Baker( D2L CEO), 'Foley&Lardner is a highly regarded national firm that combines both the litigation experience and the technical knowledge to ensure a quality defense. In addition, we have secured an extension of time in which to file our first formal response to the suit, which is now due in September.'" Baker's full letter to clients is reprinted.

Meanwhile, a second company has jumped into the fray against Blackboard; I have no information other than this cut-off subscription article from the Washington Business Journal (which is really annoying). There was a comment in this site's discussion about a lawsuit taking place, but my Google searches turned up nothing.

e-LearningNow's Paul Justice calls the Blackboard patent and lawsuit a big gamble. "BlackBoard will have a difficult task in proving that they were indeed the inventors of the modern day LMS."

I am uncertain why the backers of the Washington Times feel it necessary to bolster Blackboard and hype its stock value. Perhaps the money behind Blackboard is feeling a bit of pressure.

Anyhow, the Times gushes: "It's a good growth company," said Kirsten Edwards, an analyst with ThinkEquity Partners LLC in San Francisco, which has no business relationship with Blackboard. Ms. Edwards said she rates the stock as a "buy" because the company's primary growth strategy -- selling more expensive and functional software upgrades to existing clients -- is "fairly low-risk."

Still, even the Times cannot hide the more sombre news hidden on (a very unnecessary) page 2 of the article. Chief Financial Officer Peter Repetti is stepping down, effective September 1, and as the Times notes, "In a research note, Merrill Lynch analyst Kash Rangan called Mr. Repetti's departure 'sudden, following just six months after the WebCT acquisition.'"

For the third quarter, the company expects a net loss of $5.4 million to $5 million on revenue between $48.4 and $49.3 million.

Desire2Blog comments on the Washington Times story (but as of this writing attributes it to the Washington Post).

Susan Smith Nash, minion of the E-Learning Queen, calls the Blackboard lawsuit today's equivalent to domain-squatting and argues, "if Blackboard prevails in their case against the Canadian learning management system developer, Desire 2 Learn (D2L), they may have killed courseware and learning management systems as we know [them]."

Alfred Essa asked Harold Jarche why he thinks ELGG is not affected by the Blackboard patent and Jarche responds in detail. "lgg is not a course-based system. There is no mention of courses in the interface, nor ability to create a course."

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