Blackboard wins patent on e-learning

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 11 years 1 week ago.

Stephen Downes, a widely followed and respected blogger sho writes about educational technology issues, has posted a long and comprehensive review of the outrageous action taken by Blackboard, a company that sells (rather shoddy in my opinion) proprietary course management software. One of the reasons I consider the Blackboard software shoddy is the message-board module, which positively repels usage. Now, their patents might threaten the growing development of open source courseware. Blackboard's actions are shameful, greedy, bogus, and have the potential for retarding the development of online learning throughout the world -- especially among those who don't have the money to pay outrageous licensing fees.

As I commented earlier today, it was like poking a stick into an anthill. The Blackboard patent and subsequent action has prompted a furious reaction, one they must have anticipated (which is probably at least part of the reason for waiting from January 17, when the patent, to July 26, to make the announcement).

"In addition, patents corresponding with the U.S. patent have been issued in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and are pending in the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil."

To say that the reaction was negative would be to understate the matter considerably. Donald Clark writes, "I'd start selling Blackboard stock NOW!" Leonard Low writes, "Blackboard's claim of patent is both outrageous and repugnant." Dave Cormier writes, "In the span of a couple of weeks the educational landscape we've all come to know and care about has taken an awful beating. It seems that DOPA is taking away our open ed-web and blackweb is taking away our walled gardens." John P. Mayer writes, "How can you access the 'full power of the Internet' [as Blackboard says] if you are dealing with litigation fears and limitations of choice as a result?" Wesley Fryer exclaims "Crazy!" and asks, "Were the people in the US Patent Office really thinking clearly when they have this supposed 'patent' to Blackboard?"