It doesn’t come as any surprise that Blackboard has a number of patents. Some of the them granted in places like Australia, NZ, and US and some pending in the EU and other places.
They have also declared their intent to pursue these patents by filling against Desire2Learn, so they are going to attack their competitors, soft targets in supportive jurisdictions first. Lets hope that in countries outside the US, these patents will be seen as software patents and not be granted. I think that in the UK at least, most patents have to show that there is no prior art and that the patent is not a pure implementation patent of a pre-existing invention.
Some European Universities go back to the 1400′s or earlier, and some were doing distance learning back in the 1960′s, so perhaps that counts as prior art? There are certainly a number examples of Online Course management systems (CMS) in the US prior to the claims, and the roles of Administrator, TA, Instructor and Student have existed in most Universities for a few decades. I can only assume that those who granted these Patents did not see any of this as relevant, granting and leaving the arguments to court?
If granted, will Blackboard file against Open Source communities ? Will they file against their customers who happen to use or develop Open Source ? If they are granted their patents in many countries and they aggressively execute them, we may see the end of software development for educational purposes in Higher Education, except,Blackboard building blocks…. but then lets not worry to much, Blackboard has been known to make IPR claims on Building Blocks developed by their customers…. perhaps they should do all the “thought leading research” for us in the future, anyway, who cares about innovation in higher ed, clearly not the patent offices or anyone who thinks that pure Software Patents are defensible.
The problem for Blackboard may be that most Open source communities don’t have any commercial model, and don’t have a single point of focus, so Blackboard might have to file against each University or individual developer in turn.
And what will happen to all research environments, or Web based communities, are they also in Blackboards sights?
Dont get me wrong, I’m not against Patents, just ones that try an claim innovation and invention where implementation is closer to the truth.