Saturday, December 2, 2006

Software Freedom Law Center challenges Blackboard patent

Patent Office Asked to Review and Revoke Blackboard Patent.

The Software Freedom Law Center said Thursday that it has asked the U.S. Patent Office to re-examine a patent awarded to education software company Blackboard. It claims that the patent is bogus and could undermine three open-source education software projects it represents--Sakai, Moodle and ATutor. The patent, No. 6,988,138, is titled "Internet-based education support system and methods" and relates to a central feature of Blackboard's software: The ability to grant different people, such as students and teachers, different access rights to online resources such as grades, files or quizzes.

Right, they patented “permissions”. Wouldn‘t this idea trace all the way back to the key or perhaps the fence?

One of the more interesting things I have participated in of late was the Wikipedia effort to document the prior art in this case: History of virtual learning environments. A look at the timeline will clearly show that there is nothing in this patent that Blackboard can lay claim to having “invented”. This is a case of a corporation with deep-pockets trying to drive community-supported efforts, and the rest of their commercial competition out of existence. They know fighting this will cost a ridiculous amount of money, and that open-source efforts are never flush with cash.

So two things:

1) Dig-deep. Help the effort.
2) Stop using their technology. We have a choice. Insist that your campus use open-source alternatives of which there are several.

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