08 August 2006

Blackboard Patent

It's amazing what the US Patent Office (and IP Australia) will patent these days.

Blackboard Inc., owners of the Blackboard and WebCT Learning Management Systems, has been issued a patent by the US patent office “for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods. The patent covers core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.” [http://www.blackboard.com/company/press/release.aspx?id=887622]. A corresponding patent has been issued in Australia, among other places, and patents are pending in a number of other territories. MyClasses, Drupal, Moodle, and Sakai are examples of LMSs that the Division uses or has expressed an interest in using which may infringe Blackboard’s patent.

With the University currently in the process of reviewing its LMS options, it may be constrained in its choice of systems by the Blackboard patent. Blackboard has already filed a Patent Infringement Notice with one of its competitors, Desire2Learn, and may pursue its rights against other LMS developers both commercial and open source.

In the past patents like the Blackboard one issued by the US Patent Office have been overturned on appeal, especially where “prior art” exists. BlackBoard CEO, Michael Chasen, is himself quoted as saying “We [Blackboard] certainly did not invent e-learning or course management systems.” [http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?topic=8], so it is unlikely that the patent will stand. In the meantime, though, it may complicate the University’s procedures in updating its current WebCT LMS.