Patent battle over teaching tools
Fri 18th Aug, 2006
Blackboard, an American maker of learning management systems, took the academic community by surprise late last month when it announced it had been granted a broad patent in the US covering 44 claims related to learning management systems.
Blackboard became the largest company in this market when it merged with Canadian-based WebCT in late 2005.
It added that it expects similar patents to be granted in nearly a dozen locations around the world including the European Union, Canada, and Australia.
On the same day that it publicly disclosed its patent, Blackboard started a patent infringement suit in a Texas court against Desire2Learn.
Both the patent and the lawsuit have generated enormous anger within the academic and open source software communities.
For universities and colleges, learning management systems are an essential part of the education experience as they provide access to group discussion lists, interactive teaching lessons, and collaborative online work spaces that take the learning experience outside the traditional classroom.
Many educators have been working on these technologies for years, so the claim that one single company now holds exclusive patent rights on widely known applications that have been implemented into hundreds of learning systems worldwide came as a shock.
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