Eben Moglen Weighs in on Blackboard

Michael Feldstein, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Aug 18, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The Sakai Foundation has retained has retained the Software Freedom Law Center to evaluate the recent Blackboard patent. The SFLC, an organization directed by Eben Moglen, provides advice and legal services in support of free and open source software. Michael Feldstein remarks, "Eben Moglen is a pretty big deal. In addition to chairing the Software Freedom Law Center, he has affiliations with the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

Feldstein also notes that eCollege has panted the gradebook, though it hasn't sued anyone yet. Which is good. But, he argues, "the best solution would be for Blackboard, eCollege, and other firms that may be holding relevant patents to all offer royalty-free licenses, guaranteeing that the patents will only be used defensively." I think an even better solution would be to donate the patents to an open source project, thus ensuring that the technologies remain accessible to everyone.

The Motley Fool looks at Blackboard and discusses the patent case (no idea how long this link will stay active). The Fool likes companies like Blackboard, but isn't thrilled about the lawsuit.

The author writes, "My problem is that the patent in question is so broad that it even scares operators of bulletin boards and chat rooms that have little to do with educational markets. There have been calls to boycott Blackboard, and e-learning online communities are abuzz with indignation over the temerity of this lawsuit and the underlying patent. That's not a good way to build a fan base.

"Blackboard is an exciting company with a lot going for it, but until we see how its customers respond to the lawsuit situation, I wouldn't dare touch the stock with a 10-foot laser pointer. The fears might be overblown, but you just never know."

An article in Inside Higher Ed, Blackboard: Bully or Misunderstood, drew a lot of criticism for misrepresenting the opposition to the Blackboard patent and for giving BlackboardâxTMs general counsel, Matthew Small, an easy ride. Small, quoted throughout the article, said, "This is not a patent on e-learning. We are not bullying anyone. We are not looking to put anyone out of business. We are looking to obtain a reasonable royalty for use of our intellectual property."

If you want to help Desire2Learn, send them your "hard copy users guides from June 1998 and earlier... documentation, release notes, even brochures."

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