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Blackboard Patenting Educational Groupware 223

chizz writes "Online learning provider Blackboard announced the other day that it has patented the Learning Management System (LMS). The very same day it went after Desire2Learn for Patent infringement in a truly Salt Lake City kinda way. A great many educators are a bit shook up by this, and are stockpiling prior art all over the place. "
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Blackboard Patenting Educational Groupware

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  • Awful patent. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by albalbo ( 33890 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:38AM (#15830952) Homepage
    We were talking about this on a UK ml the other day; there are a number of Moodle people worried about this.

    It's a patent so bad it looks like the EPO won't grant it. Which is really saying something.
    • Re:Awful patent. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by albalbo ( 33890 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:41AM (#15830965) Homepage
      I also meant to add my favourite quote from the patent:

      "For example, an Internet user's ability to access information using that medium is significantly reduced if the user lacks understanding of how to use Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) to traverse (i.e., navigate) web pages."

      I think I stopped reading shortly after that point, it would have hurt too much to continue.
    • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:11AM (#15831130) Homepage
      The problem is not that there are 'good' and 'bad' software patents, even if such a distinction can be made (since clearly it's a relative judgement).

      The problem is that there is no mechanism that can filter the very damaging software patents from the less-damaging ones. At least, as far as experience shows in the USA and Europe, any legal definition that allows some software patents can be systematically broadened to include them all.

      The only barrier to the really damaging software patents - the ones that claim ownership of an entire software ecology - is a blanket ban on the patenting of software, period. In Europe this is called the "subject matter" criteria, which is the key barrier to software patents in Europe. Prior art, triviality, and industrial application (the other criteria) are hackable to mean anything one likes. Lawyers have also been hacking the subject matter, but it's harder, since the European Patent Convention clearly does not allow patents on computer programs. (The hack usually starts by saying, "ah, but we're not patenting the program, just the underlying methods...")

      The Blackboard patent looks truly obvious, but that's not enough of an argument to invalidate it. One needs to prove it was unobvious when it was filed and that your prior art can be documented to before that date as well. I've seen in patent suits in Europe that this can be very difficult, even for well-funded firms. Once granted, a relevant patent has an even chance of surviving, no matter what you throw at it. Ask Microsoft... they've been at the sharp end often enough.

      Eventually, we need to see a movement to ban the patenting of software in the USA, much like this movement already exists in Europe. The alternative is to see the software ecology get more and more subverted, to the point where small-to-medium firms cannot innovate any longer, which is a bad place to be in an information economy.

      To those who say, "if it's a bad patent, fight it in court", please understand that being at the receiving end of such legal instruments is tantamount to being at the end of a large gun. Small firms cannot afford lawsuits, even frivoulous ones, and it's incredible that the USPTO should have turned into an accomplice and tool of such legalized extortions.

      Who stands up for the small-to-medium IT firms?
      • Nothing is worse than someone posting such a complete response as to leave nothing for the rest of us. Please feel free to toss a /.'er some crumbs next time.

        mod +5 stold my post.
        • The patent debate has so many tables to eat from, I don't need to toss you crumbs, but entire repasts. Here are some things to think about:

          - Can one define new open standards in a world with software patents?

          - How are software patents different from business method patents?

          - What does it mean to "patent software"? Are such patents not in fact patents on ideas?

          - When should government create monopolies as a tool of trade? Should this be done by burocrats and specialists who
          • - What does it mean to "patent software"? Are such patents not in fact patents on ideas?

            NO. Patents are supposed to be a limited monopoly granted on a very specific implementation of an idea, e.g., a specific type of physical device/machine/etc. and it cannot be broad, e.g., one cannot (legally) patent a cylindrical steel fastening device and then turn around and sue nail and screw manufacturers for patent infringement.
      • The problem is not that there are 'good' and 'bad' software patents, even if such a distinction can be made (since clearly it's a relative judgement).

        Of course such a distinction can be made. The rules for granting a patent are the basis, and if a granted patent follows the rules, then, by definition, it is good. The problem lies in patents that are granted that so obviously run afoul of the rules that they call into question the integrity of the entire patenting system. This is where the state of pate
      • Who stands up for the small-to-medium IT firms?

        Stop whining. Why not donate to FFII []?
    • by guisar ( 69737 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:56AM (#15831523) Homepage
      Blackboard and WebCT are consolidating the educational "on-line" learning software market and this is VERY bad for open source. Neither of these systems is at all friendly to Linux; I have to use them as an on-line professor. They don't work with Firefox, they don't work with Konqueror. The systems themselves are terribly complex and non-intuitive.

      If this sounds somewhat like a rant- I encourage you to try either of these systems. I believe you'll come away just as frustrated. The notion of these systems gaining, or even trying to gain a stranglehold is very depressing.

      I hope that not only are these patents denied but that Blackboard and WebCT get tied up in litigation until they go Chapter 11. If any market should be supportive of Open Source, I think the on-line learning marketplace is a natural. Having Blackboard and WebCT dominate is not good for us.

      • Maybe it's just the version of BB that I've seen at my university (and my college before that), but I've never had any trouble using blackboard in Firefox.

        That said, I still hate it. Clemson had a reasonably usable system that they developed (and hence could have continued to develop) that they abandoned wholesale in favor of BB, which ALL of the professors I have spoken to either HATE or are indifferent to. None of them actually like it, and a large number refuse to use it on ideological grounds (from wh
      • by DoktorMel ( 35110 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:11AM (#15831648)
        I think your institution needs to upgrade. The latest releases of Blackboard are _extremely_ firefox-friendly. The only features which didn't work with firefox in the 6.x releases, so far as I am aware, are the WYSIWYG editor (which I've never made a practice of using, preferring to write good html). All of these features are working in the current 7.x releases. I think you probably need to consult with your system administrators--a rather more limited audience than that afforded by /.--to determine what their upgrade schedule looks like.

        I would also point out before this becomes a "Blackboard hates Linux" thread, that Blackboard has always released its product for Linux and I believe most of their hosting business runs on Linux as well.
        • Blackboard DOES hate Linux. Whatever your experience with Blackboard 7, Blackboard itself does not agree:

 er_requirements.pdf []

          NB: NO mention of Linux. Do you really want to use Firefox 1.0? I mean is it even available? I don't see Konqueror anywhere. There's NO reason why every box in that chart shouldn't be checked that I can see. Keeping the system simple and usable would avoid the problems.
          • Documentation aside, I use blackboard with Linux every day and it works flawlessly. You're setting up a straw man here. Clearly it's not reasonable for a company to expend the resources to validate their software with a browser that isn't going to be a factor for 95% of their users. This is born out by the fact that they do validate for Mac OS. MacOS has a higher adoption rate in their market, so naturally, it makes business sense for them to expend those resources in that direction. If you think that
      • I use WebCt and BB as an instructor- they do not work with Konqueror or Firefox. It may or may not work for students. From what I can tell most things other than the chat and email features do function for students under firefox, if you enable popups and java and don't push to hard. They do not work for Konqeuror. I can't speak to Nautilus.

        It's not a matter of those environments being buggy, the on-line systems go out of their way (in my observation) to break things by making even the simpliest function a c
  • What will this mean for moodle?
    • What will this mean for moodle?

      Nothing, as the patent isn't even worth the paper it's written on.
      • Nothing, as the patent isn't even worth the paper it's written on.

        You must be new here. Even a baseless patent gains value when it's backed up by an army of lawyers and a few million dollars.

        The actual truth or falsehood of facts dim in relative importance compared to who can afford to defend them in court.
      • Surely you heard of the BlackBerry case in which RIM paid $600+ million to a company with repeatedly rejected patents?
    • Considering that Moodle was demonstrated at least a year before Blackboard existed, it'll be listed as prior art in the trial. Worst case, Moodle moves offshore, but that doesn't do us any good; anyone using it would be caught for patent infringement, and we'd be left with BB in a monopoly.

      Given the potential monopoly situation, a judge might decide to throw out the case regardless. I doubt it, though.
      • I think you've got that backwards, actually. Moodle development dates from 1999 (Martin Dougimas' first publication in the educational technology field was 1998, I believe). Blackboard started offering a LMS in 1998 after the original company which was a consulting operation merged with Courseinfo (the LMS developed at Cornell). I think if you're looking for prior art, Moodle--regardless of its other merits--isn't the place to look.
  • by technoextreme ( 885694 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:42AM (#15830973)
    Well. You can't patent something as ubiquitous as a content managment system which is what blackboard is (Sure a special type of CMS but still it's a CMS)
  • ANother example (Score:5, Informative)

    by teflaime ( 738532 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:43AM (#15830982)
    of the incompetence in the US patent office. There is nothing patentable about Blackboard. It introduces nothing new to teaching, to learning, or anything. It's a horrible patent, and I hope the court finds the patent invalid. Besides, Mallard was the first online teaching environment, so UIUC should be suing Blackboard.
    • It introduces nothing new to teaching, to learning, or anything. It's a horrible patent

      It's not that grand of a CMS, either.

    • ... This way no one else can ever... EVER ... build another interface that bad again!

      Seriously, their admin interface is one of the most horrible I have ever come across.
    • Blackboard should be shunned and loathed (most educators I know who use it and who have any sense loathe it already - it seems to be beloved more of administrators).

      I only use blackboard as a way to collect and return assignments. It is awkward, painful and easy to goof with (for example, returning notes on an assignment to the wrong person). The only reason I use it is that my homebrew version which used a web interface and Postgresql and which was very hard indeed to goof with, was considered arcane

  • WebCT (Score:4, Informative)

    by mwilliamson ( 672411 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:44AM (#15830989) Homepage Journal
    This is the same company that recently acquired WebCT, which was probably their biggest commercial competitor. They have plans to "merge" the Blackboard and WebCT product line, but they're so different I suspect they're just going to kill one off and concentrate on the other.

    I've just lost a lot of respect for these guys with this patent BS. Long live Moodle!

  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:47AM (#15831002) Homepage Journal
    Wait a minute...

    A great many educators are a bit shook up by this, and are stockpiling prior art all over the place

    If they can prove in a court of law that there is prior art, I don't see what the fuss is all about. Whatever stupid patent the attacking company shows, it will be laughed out of court and will probably be declared null and void.

    Of course, that's assuming the judge involved in this case still has functioning grey matter, which may be a bit too optmistic. Then again, SCO is in dire straits, so there is still hope...

    One thing is certain though: this case proves, if that was still needed, that the US Patent Office does not have any grey matter left. I mean, another (fairly-obvious-sounding) patent that could be invalidated with prior art? How many of these exist out there "in the wild", to be used by rich b______s?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Blackboard was garbage until GWU sold them Prometheus, which practically makes up their Blackboard software now. Can you patent something somebody made without patenting and sold to you?
    If Ford built a car and sold it to you without patenting it, could you then turn around and patent it?

    • Blackboard was garbage until GWU sold them Prometheus, which practically makes up their Blackboard software now. Can you patent something somebody made without patenting and sold to you?

      Software patents are not patents on particular pieces of software, but on concepts. Blackboard didn't patent their or someone else's implementation of a CMS geared towards education, but the generic principle of such a CMS.
    • Blackboard was garbage until GWU sold them Prometheus, which practically makes up their Blackboard software now. Can you patent something somebody made without patenting and sold to you?

      No, you can only patent what you yourself have actually invented. Buying somebody's product and then patenting inventions contained in it is fraud.
  • Patenting Insecurity (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder what dividends owning a security hole pays? 0463.html []
  • by ToxikFetus ( 925966 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:55AM (#15831052)
    I'm confused. What is "a truly Salt Lake City kinda way?" Patent Polygamy? A beatdown from The Mormon Stick of Justice(TM)? Eating 6 saltines in a minute?
    • I'd initially figured they'd skied three feet of fresh powder before driving down to the courtroom to file, but I think it's just some Groklaw dork making his hourly reference to SCO.

      Hey, compared to this morning's Ask Slashdot: "What is this World coming to? Do you think they went to far?", it's solid journalism.

    • It harkens back to the days when SCO's lawsuits [] were relevant. SCO filed the lawsuits in Utah, where they had the best chance of winning.
      • SCO filed the lawsuits in Utah, where they had the best chance of winning.

        SCO filed the lawsuits (IBM & Novell, the AutoZone & DaimlerChrysler suits were filed elsewhere) in Utah because SCO is based in Utah. Also, SCO is based in Lindon, Utah, not Salt Lake City so I'm not sure how SLC is then associated with SCO - maybe because the court is located in SLC?
  • by hotspotbloc ( 767418 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @08:59AM (#15831073) Homepage Journal
    Hey, there's lots a reasons to jab at SLC but not because a company not based in Utah (but in Washington DC and Phoenix) filed a lawsuit in a Federal Court that just happens to be in that city. Now if you want to complain about the hookers on State and 400 South, well ...
    • Now if you want to complain about the hookers on State and 400 South, well ...

      What's wrong with them? Bad service?

    • Hey, there's lots a reasons to jab at SLC but not because a company not based in Utah (but in Washington DC and Phoenix) filed a lawsuit in a Federal Court that just happens to be in that city.

      Actually, acording to the complaint it appears to have been filed in the Eastern District Court of Texas. Which is interesting given that I think that may be one of the shopping areas for attorneys seeking to get a large judgement against a company.
  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:01AM (#15831078) Homepage Journal
    According to the filing, the party whose bogus patent is allegedly being infringed is incorporated in Delaware and has its primary office in Washington D.C., while the alleged infringer is a Canadian company.

    But the suit itself is being filed in Texas, and the suit names statutes that give the court jurisdiction.

    Does this mean they chose this court because it's run by Bushies who instinctively love monoplizers and hate entrepreneurs? Or is there another reason for this choice of venue?

    In a logical world, you'd expect the lawsuit to be filed where one or the other of the companies has its HQ.

    I know, it's not a logical world. The USPTO proves that. But this geographical silliness is another example of the general legal ludicrosities we USians now deal with instead of having sensible laws and courts.


    - Robin
    • Maybe they're seeking the death penalty? /ducks
    • by kansas1051 ( 720008 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:33AM (#15831310)

      The suit, like almost all recent patent suits, was filed in the E.D. of Texas because the district is a "rocket docket" - i.e. cases are quickly tried there. The E.D. Texas also has tremendous patent experience, as their judges have presided over several patent cases (which is rare in most other districts). The juries also tend to me more educated (and pro-patent/inventor) than in most other areas.

      In a logical world, you'd expect the lawsuit to be filed where one or the other of the companies has its HQ.

      This has never been the rule or law in the U.S. - a federal suit can be filed anywhere where there is personal jurisdiction and venue. As the allegedly infringing products are probably offered for sale or sold in the E.D. of Texas, the requirements for jurisdiction and venue are likely easily met.

      Suits are rarely brought where the defendant has a large presence because juries and judges always favor the hometown team (imagine Toyota suing Ford in Michigan).

  • When you find that you have to use patented Educational materials, it's time to go back to the ole drawing board and educate yourself at the local library & on the internet.

    From Blackboard's website:
    "For nearly a decade, Blackboard has been a thought leader in the e-Learning industry and has developed products that have helped to fundamentally alter how educational institutions and their educators teach and communicate with students," said Michael Chasen, CEO of Blackboard.

    We were fundamental
  • Blackboard sucks. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:04AM (#15831095)
    Not just the company, but the product.

    When released their Blackboard 6 software caused all kinds of trouble in time lost and support at my college, to the point where a Bb rep came out to apologize to IT and the instructors. One instructor stood up and demanded that Bb make reparations for money spent in lost time.

    My college also uses them for student organizations. But I'll tell you, Google Groups and independent hosting makes for a more effective solution. For one, a Blackboard cluster doesn't share session data across servers--each server maintains session data locally, which means you can't use HTML links to point to resources within Blackboard, from within Blackboard. In fact, you can't hardlink to a Blackboard resource, period.

    The discussion board software is designed to be reset after every semester, which means you have to delete and recreate a Blackboard module each time, which leads to more work for instructors. The semester-centric view also makes the discussion software clunky for student organizations, which only reset once per year, if at all. I have to sift through comments dating back to September of last year before I get to recent material. Plus, there's no way to archive and search the comments.

    The announcement mechanism doesn't support RSS, or even--as far as I can find--a way to send out emails automatically when announcements are created.

    I could go on...I've been bending this software to my needs for a few years now.

    I wish I could put my name to this, but I won't. I'm a little too paranoid for that.
    • Right on. I've also been afflicted with Blackboard. Here, at Duke, it's down all Sunday for maintenance. I can't tell you how many times I was in on Sunday doing some grading and couldn't post stuff to the page. It's annoying. What kind of software needs a day of down-time per week? Also, as a grad student I had the dubious honor of also using it as a student. The navigation sucks, plus you can't link to your course pages. You'll always have to navigate down the tree of courses your in to find info
    • I've had to interface with Blackboard before, and it's a piss poor LMS, especially if you want to get any data into or out of it without entering it all by hand.

      Imagine for a moment that at the dawn of the PC era some jackass had built an OS that lost data on a regular basis, didn't run reliably and could be trusted with your information for just about as far as you could throw the computer it was running on. Then imagine that the user interface made DOS 1.0 look like Mac OS X by comparison.

      Now imagine the
    • Re:Blackboard sucks. (Score:2, Informative)

      by _bug_ ( 112702 )
      Adding my 2 cents. I've been managing Bb installations for two separate institutions for the past three years. One institution took their basic license because they were a small college and didn't have the need, or money, for the higher priced (enterprise) packages.

      Since we're dealing with grades and other personal information the first thing I set about was running it over SSL. \

      Nope. Can't do it. Blackboard's basic license does not support SSL. You would think it'd be a non-issue. That the communication c
      • CIOs aren't keen on spending money to help educate faculty, staff and the students on how to use a new product.
        I found this really great software product, called moodle, with very little effort you could use it to train your faculty to use it. The point is that our present world has become insanely dynamic, and very few fields have much if any knowlege that is able to last more than 5-7 years any way; look how fast web programming blew through the Perl-PHP-Java-PHP-Python-ROR cycles. The value of education
  • by jkrise ( 535370 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:05AM (#15831101) Journal
    Here's Martin Dougiamas' comments on this topic... he's Mr. Moodle, it seems. 1617 [] very clearly states there's no need to panic. Surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand have already allowed this patetnt, though!
    • Since I hack at Moodle for a living, I honestly hope Martin's right about this. We used Blackboard at our University for a few years but gave it up when the licensing costs and the number of bugs and security issues made it prohibitive.
      • How exactly did you "give up blackboard?"

        Politically that seems almost suicidal to try if faculty have bought into Blackboard.

        Has anyone written any papers about this process?

        • Yes, but the faculty have rarely "bought into Blackboard". Instead they use it while holding their nose, cursing and screaming, or with an air of resigned hopelessness. I've NEVER met a professor/faculty member who actually LIKED blackboard.

          Clemson uses it, and it really pissed off the professors when it was purchased and the perfectly usable prior interface was abandoned wholesale (developed in house, and not too bad).

          Moodle needs to have (if they don't) a "BB Migration Tool" that reads the BB database a
  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:06AM (#15831104) Journal
    I'll be interested in what they can actually do. We use Dokeos [], which is headquartered out of Belgium. They don't have a lot of penetration in the US and I can't imagine the EU holding this patent valid, so I'm going to ignore this entirely. Moodle is out of Australia and the press release indicates a corresponding patent has already been issued there and it does have a lot of folks in the US using it. Sakai will be the real test, since they are totally US based.

    I can't imagine this isn't a long term strike against the Open Source LMSs out there. There's no real commercial competition anymore in the field with WebCT gone. Desire2Learn, Angel and the rest are ants under the feet of the Blackboard elephant, but Sakai and Moodle are getting real traction- the real buzz at EDUCAUSE isn't at the BB booth but at Sakai talks, the college just up the road dumped BB for Moodle this summer, etc.

    I had a long conversation with some BB salesdroids last year and they more or less admitted that BB's long term future isn't their LMS, it's the OneCard system. They get a cut out of every purchase made with it, and it's a real cash cow.

  • by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:10AM (#15831122)
    Aside from being slow and ugly, it is one of the buggiest pieces of software I have ever used. Whenever I go to check my grades it will say something like 10 points possible for assignment, your score 7, class average 11.2. This thing is worse than Diebold.
  • I certainly hope that nothing comes of this. D2L isn't any sort of super rich business, and I certainly do not want to have to tell a campus full of neophyte Professors and students that they have to learn a new system. Heck, it's not like D2L exactly puts on a good front for the online learning aides that are out there. One of the most frequent calls that my help desk gets is a new problem has arisen with D2L.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:13AM (#15831149)
    Public policy wonks love software patents because in Public Policy Wonk Happer Wonderland, systems that work on paper work in real life. What should scare legislators is that our companies have resorted to patenting so much crap like this. It means that America is getting lazy and dangerously short-sighted. I would argue that cases like this prove why America needs to introduce some danger, not protection, into its companies' environment. Danger makes people competitive and responsive to change. Security makes them complacent.
  • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:15AM (#15831158) Journal
    I mis-read the title as "Blackbeard Patenting Educational Groupware" and thought that the pirate party had taken off a lot better than expected
    • "Blackbeard Patenting Educational Groupware"

      I think the pirate anology for the US patent system is quite appropriate. It holds up commerce, seemingly at random. Loots the cash and rapes the survivors.

  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:20AM (#15831185)
    Anyone who has worked in the IT department of a school/school district has had to deal with the HORRIBLE software that ripoff-artists like Blackboard manage to sell to clueless managers.

    I would venture to say that the vast majority of software marketed to schools/universities is pure crap. And the best part is, it's MASSIVELY overpriced, too, since most schools get government grants to buy this stuff (and, again, the people who approve these purchases generally have no idea what the stuff is worth).

    Screw all of the educational software companies. They're leeches feeding of the ignorance of stupid administrators and pork-barrel funding.
    • While I agree to this in part, the main reason institutions go with Blackboard (or WebCT) is because the Open Source alternatives aren't up to par with features and, in most cases, don't have any contracted support that an institution can rely on. Sakai, for example, is also still an unfinished product. Who in their right mind would risk all of their online and distant learning to a system that isn't finished and lacks the level of support of a commercial product?

      We've been using WebCT since '98 and conti
  • by Max Threshold ( 540114 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:21AM (#15831198)
    It's time to start applying the corporate death penalty to companies who abuse the system this way. Blackboard would make an excellent poster child.
  • Making me remember the horrors of college... And the shit that was blackboard. It was always down for repairs and the online exams were trivial to cheat at.

    What a crock...

  • d2l conference (Score:3, Interesting)

    by feldsteins ( 313201 ) <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:26AM (#15831239) Homepage
    I'm at the Desire2Learn User's Conference right now in Guelph, Ontario. The buzz here is that the whole patent is ludicrous and only serves to further D2Ls status as a major player in the LMS space.
  • Blackboard Admin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jethro374 ( 992720 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:28AM (#15831265)
    As a Blackboard administrator this patent disturbs me. The level of support that this company provides is poor on most occasions and for them to be able to limit any choice I have to use an alternative, esp. an Open Source option like Moodle, is bad for my school. I have a feeling this patent will not stand.
  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:32AM (#15831308) Journal
    From the article's listing of the summary of the patent:

    "For example, a lawyer may create a course in patent law online..."

    I think the lawyer will have to learn patent law before he can be sure he can do this...

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:35AM (#15831332)
    I work at a university where we recently adopted the free open source Sakai learning management system. Does anyone know if these patents will threaten our ability to use it? I know that Sakai plans to add Blackboard-like functionality in the future, so it seems likely that at the very least these patents will halt development in that direction.

    Is there anyone here on the Sakai team, or other Sakai users who can shed some light on this issue?

    • as a developer working on Sakai at onother school I can tell you that the Sakai Foundation is taking this very seriously and examining the possible effects. There has been a lot of traffic on the lists and people have been contributing to the wikipedia list of prior art. As you can imagine many people involved in Sakai worked on that 'prior art' and are particularly offended by the patent.

      In our case we're outside the US in a teritory where this sort of thing is not patentable so we're saffer than most.
  • by citking ( 551907 ) <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @09:48AM (#15831457) Homepage Guelph Canada. I'm typing this in a session about the new features in 8.1 :)

    The CEO of D2L, John Baker, wrote this LMS while a grad student enrolled at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada. The facts scream "prior art" and Blackboard really has no case IMHO. I think the strategy here, as John put it, is to sue D2L to a point where it'd be in D2L's best interest to avoid expensive litigation and just get taken over by Blackboard. The hidden backstory here is that Blackboard wants so badly to take over D2L but D2L doesn't want any part of that. So Blackboard takes the other, more scenic route: sue them into oblivion.

    I can almost guarantee that Blackboard will lose this suit. The fact that D2L existed before Blackboard was even a gleam in the eye of its writer is 98% of the case.

    In any way, John was so confident about his ability to win this suit he gave us all extra drink tickets! :)
    • The fact that D2L existed before Blackboard was even a gleam in the eye of its writer is 98% of the case.

      As much as I'd like to believe this, 98% percent of the case is who can throw more money at it. I hope D2L is passing the hat around at the user's conference, because they are going to need a big pile of cash if they want to survive a patent-infringement suit.

      I also hope that they're privately held; an infringement suit -- even a baseless one -- would be a nice way of driving the share price down low eno
      • As much as I'd like to believe this, 98% percent of the case is who can throw more money at it.

        I'm as cynical as the next guy, but honestly, the system isn't that corrupt. If it were, the US would look more like Mexico or an African country.

        "But the US is as corrupt as an African country!" - no it isn't. Rhetoric isn't evidence. Believing it in the face of all evidence to the contrary is not wisdom. "Rampant corruption around every corner" and "world's largest economy" do not go together.

        It is still true t
  • by N8F8 ( 4562 )
    Schools are the worst. It's like a suck contest. Blackboard sucks but it took tons of sucky college IT departments to make them so popular in spite of their suckiness. I recently spent several weeks working on a proposal to improve a local university's web presence and I was astounded at what a mess they had. IT was like a huge collection of buggy software with no coherent interface. So we spent >$40K coming up with a proposal/bid only to have them say, "thanks for the bluprint, I guess we'll do it ourse
  • by aricusmaximus ( 300760 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:08AM (#15831610)
    Most of the claims in Blackboard's patent are for concepts many LMSes had at the time (assignments, tests, lectures, grading, announcements, login, discussion area, chat). I was working with a competitive company at the time the patent was filed. The system we worked on was already in use by many colleges on the West Coast, with most of the features listed by June 30th, 2000, so most of the claims can be shown to be prior art.

    This patent will not matter much. I don't see any particular reason to worry about it and here's why (IANAL!):

    1. The patent relies on 44 claims, most of which can easily be shown to be prior art. (Ironically, WebCT, which was bought out by BlackBoard might be used as a counterexample of prior art).
    3. To violate the Patent you would have to be substantially equivalent []. Essentially this means someone would have to substantially rely on Blackboard's look and feel for providing LMS services.
    4. The patent heavily relies on the concept of "files" - like our old system, which used flat files for information management (no, we did not and could not develop for the then popular (1998-1999) Sun + Oracle combo -- too big and too expensive for us and most schools at the time). An LMS using a Relational Database may be sufficiently different enough in implementation.
    5. The patent differention seems to be at this part:

    "The present invention also enhances the prior art by providing a flexible infrastructure for colleges, universities, and other institutions wishing to facilitate on-line registration and tuition payment. More specifically, the present invention can accommodate different billing methods, including, but not limited to, billing on a per-credit-hour basis, and billing on a per-registrant basis."

    So, unless you are looking to build a Blackboard clone using a flat-file data management system including an integrated payment system, I really don't see anything to fret about.

    (Disclaimer - As I said above, I am not a lawyer, and I certainly would love to see a more sophisticated legal analysis).

    • 1. The patent relies on 44 claims, most of which can easily be shown to be prior art. (Ironically, WebCT, which was bought out by BlackBoard might be used as a counterexample of prior art).

      Each claim stands or falls on its own. In other words, if a competitor is infringing just *one* of those claims, it doesn't matter whether every other claim is invalidated.

      3. To violate the Patent you would have to be substantially equivalent. Essentially this means someone would have to substantially rely on Black

  • by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:09AM (#15831614)
    Comes from my experience at school. My university uses Blackboard to administer tests and quizzes, disseminate documents, track grades, etc. The administration has made a big push to have all the faculty use it, but their has been a big push back because Blackboard has been terrible to work with.

    The biggest deal has been its tendency to erase grades, lose testing results, etc. It has been a nightmare for students and teachers a like. That aside, talking with the IT administrative staff, Blackboard has a tendency to defer responsibility to other problems, even though time and time again, blame clearly falls on bugs in their software. This annoyed a lot of people, so much in fact, that the IS department faculty have started an initiative to code a new one, from scratch, in Java.

    So what would Blackboard's natural response be to customers deciding that they can create their own CMS? Why not patent it? Then they're locked into using their software! May the patent Gods strike this one down quick!
    • Your IS department is on crack. There are so many already-open-source LCMSs that it's like writing your own text editor... stop already and start with something else. We don't need another half-assed text editor, we don't need another half-assed web framework, we don't need another half-assed MP3 player, and we don't need another half-assed LCMS.

      Disclaimer: I've worked on LON-CAPA [], but I mean that in general. Pick up one of the existing ones and extend it. I don't know if any are in Java, but I wouldn't be
    • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:49AM (#15832506) Journal
      This annoyed a lot of people, so much in fact, that the IS department faculty have started an initiative to code a new one, from scratch, in Java.

      Why? It's not like there aren't already a lot [] of highly capable [] Open Source LMSs [] out there [], some are even written in Java [].

      Depending on your needs, any of these could work fine. We've been running on Dokeos for the past three years, and although our needs aren't high it's worked quite well.

  • Why are they filing it in Lufkin, Texas? I grew up there...I doubt they'll find a jury they like.
  • the patent only covers their incredibly ugly and hackish system.

    So you know, GOOD systems can flourish
  • by deadline ( 14171 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:21AM (#15831740) Homepage

    For the life of me, this is one of those patents that is so obvious and has so much prior art that is makes you think the patent office is a rubber stamp for industry. Oh wait.

    FROM: Clue Stick
    RE: Blackboard patent

    Read this:

    Online Learning Timeline []

  • by necrodeep ( 96704 ) * on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:57AM (#15832049)
    Considering in the LMS world - blackboard is barely a blip:

    I am sure that companies like IBM, SumTotal Systems, Plateau, Saba, Oracle (iLearning), and will have plenty to say about it. Especially since several of these companies (or generally pieces of these companies - since they tend to merge a lot in the LMS world) have had working LMS systems for far longer than Blackboard has been in existence.

    Hell, when SumTotal Systems acquired Pathlore Software (which is all the way from Goul - they inherited more than 20 years worth of LMS code... we are talking mainframe days here - and I hear that a lot of that stuff is still running. Prior art abounds... this is a horrible patent anyway.
  • by stuntpope ( 19736 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:26AM (#15832349)
    Zope Corp used to have Zope4Edu, and Duke University was helping with it. Now it's not listed as a product on, but it is mentioned in their "about" page. Anyone have experience with it? Wonder if BB would sue them.
  • And to think I just ran into someone who is a rising start at Blackboard as a project manager.

    Why would a company that already controls the biggest share of the university market seek to eliminate the small players with an expensive patent suit. They already aquired their biggest competitor so its basically just them and some smaller companies and schools that choose to build their own. They also have yet to attempt to compete in the highschool market. This lawsuit is a distraction at best. Patents are not

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard