Blackboard Inc., makers of the popular e-learning tool Blackboard Academic Suite, may soon head to court to defend its patent on a range of e-learning materials. At issue is whether rival company Desire2Learn’s similar product violates the 2006 patent awarded to Blackboard.
p. In a lawsuit filed July 26, 2006, Blackboard alleged that Desire2Learn “uses, offers to sell, and sells within the United States … products and services that infringe [upon Blackboard’s patent], including, but not limited to all D2L products based on the D2L learning system or platform.”
p. Desire2Learn rejects these claims and, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Dan Carnevale, will likely argue its case in court.
p. “We at Desire2Learn are unwavering in our position that the patent claims are invalid and unenforceable against Open Source [software], our competitors, and us, and that we do not infringe on the claims,” the company wrote in a Feb. 2 posting to its online blog.
p. A range of interested parties, including makers of rival products, open-source software advocates and higher education officials, are concerned that Blackboard’s patent is too broad and will hinder development of new technologies and innovation in higher education. Blackboard denies these claims.
p. According to Carnevale, “they are concerned that the patent could stifle innovation, especially among open-source vendors, such as Sakai and Moodle, which offer technology similar to Blackboard’s, but without demanding licensing fees.”
Blackboard president and CEO Michael Chasen defended the company in a Feb. 1 press release.
p. “As a member of the e-Learning community, we are committed to the open exchange of ideas, collaboration and innovation,” he wrote.
p. Desire2Learn responded in its blog: “If Blackboard were truly concerned about its customer base, Open Source, and education at large, it would welcome the [United States Patent Office’s] decision to re-examine the patent.”
p. Opponents of the Blackboard patent are hoping that the USPO’s review of Blackboard’s patent will result in the removal of the patent for some or all of the currently protected technologies.
Advocacy groups such as the Software Freedom Law Center, which represents several open-source firms, hope that the submission of evidence that similar technologies existed before Blackboard’s patent, or prior art, will cause the Patent Office to revoke Blackboard’s patent.
p. “The Patent Office found that prior art cited in SFLC’s request raises ‘a substantial new question of patentability’ regarding all 44 claims of Blackboard’s patent,” the SFLC said in a Jan. 25 press release on its website.
p. According to William & Mary Information Technology’s website, the College began using Blackboard in 1999.
“Blackboard (then called CourseInfo) was popular for its ease of use,” the website says.
p. Were the lawsuit against Blackboard successful, the company would lose some or all of the patents on its software suite. While this would open it up to competitors but Blackboard would continue to be able to market its product.