Jim Farmer’s Eyewitness Account of the Blackboard Patent Trial


Through a combination of resignation towards what seemed a pre-determined outcome and pre-occupation with Northern Voice when it was announced, I managed to miss most of the recent hair-pulling that the ridiculous finding in Blackboard’s favour prompted. And thank goodness too, my hair couldn’t have stood it 😉

But I did go read Jim Farmer’s extended eyewitness account of the trial which Michael Feldstein graciously posted over at e-Literate, and I thoroughly advise you too as well, as much for what it portends for the future of high tech patents as what it says about this particular judgement.

It is not difficult to see a picture here (and I want to be clear here, because I think Jim did a fine job being as impartial as possible, that these are my interpretations) of not just “Justice for Sale” but “Patent Law Judgements as Economic Diversification Program.” It’s bad enough to have to read this about Blackboard’s (god how I even cringe to write that name) expert witness:

“Expert witnesses always are asked about their fees. When asked how much he had earned, Mark Jones was unable to give an answer. He said he had spent “hundreds of hours” and gave his rate as $325 per hour. (I thought he said $375, but court documents have the lower amount). He also said he had received $170,000 in fees from Blackboard before the end of 2007 as his [IRS Form] 1099 showed. It is likely he will have been paid more than $300,000 for his testimony when the trial is complete.”

But the picutre of an economically challenged town with a propensity to trust the government (in this case the Patent Office) gearing up to become a high tech patent rocket docket should send shivers up your spine (well, at least unless you are totally jaded about the state of justice in the land, which I can’t say I’d blame you for being.)

Go read for yourself. But all I can help thinking is – did we honestly think it was going to go any other way? And how far along are you on your open source CMS? (or even better, on your loosely coupled teaching platform?) – SWL

Current list of U.S. eLearning Patents and Patent Applications


I believe, though could be mistaken, that this valuable list of current US e-learning patents was created by Jim Farmer at im+m.

This next comment goes in the “Scott complaining about something that is free” bin, but Jim, is there any way you could maintain this (if that is what you are doing in) in something like DabbleDB or a GoogleDoc spreadsheet? Something that automatically produces an RSS feed (and that you could give permission to others to add to, so as to not have to shoulder the burden alone).

Efforts like this that keep the community appraised are immensely valueable. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but much like the case with the Ed Tech conference listings I documented a while back, in this day and age we need to be looking at web-based formats and tools by default, ones that produce RSS and allow collaborative editing. There is simply too much too kepp track of to do otherwise, and it is only in spreading the load that we can hope to keep up. – SWL

educate/innovate = use patents?


OK, so at least they did post something back on August 7 about the patent (a staff member posting a letter on behalf of Michael Chasen, the CEO), but otherwise, the Blackboard “blog” has been thunderously silent given the amount of hoopla in the blogosphere over the last month directly concerning them.

Not really surprising, but also not what I’d call an “authentic” engagement with the concerns of their readers/customers. (And my reaction to the notes from their conference call with ALT in the UK is the same as Stephen’s – apparently I’ve found another use for our stockpiled baby wipes now that our kids are out of diapers).

I did say that I was reserving judgement on the BB ‘blog’ until there was more to judge. Looks like the evidence is in, though, and on the charge of “falsely impersonating a blog” the evidence is based on the omissions as much as what is there. – SWL

Blackboard Patent and Prior Art


I am officially still on holidays until next Tuesday but made the mistake of checking my email (I have managed to abstain from my bloglines account though!) and through a mailing list I subscribe to saw a post on the nastiness that is Blackboard’s patent application. If you can beat them, sue them, eh?

The ensuing effort to create a history of LMS/VLEs through Wikipedia is great and to be applauded. When I saw the posts about Blackboard’s patent I immediately thought of our Edutools site, actually its predecessor, Landonline, developed by my colleague Dr. Bruce Landon and hosted by my former employers, the now defunct Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology (C2T2).

Bruce originally created that site in 1996 (pre-Blackboard, in fact the early version was pre-WebCT as well.) I checked the Internet Archives, and while they don’t have a copy from 1996, they do have ones from 1997, 1998 and 1999. If you have a look at the copies on the Wayback machine. The copies on the Wayback machine aren’t pretty (lots of broken images) but you can see, for instance in this comparison from 1998, that Blackboard (here called Courseinfo) and WebCT show up in this apples to apples comparison with 4 other systems at the time.

It’s not like Landonline/Edutools is the only example you can point to that was comparing Blackboard and WebCT to competing offerings – Marshall University’s Center for Instructional Technology’s comparison of LMS/CMS tools from 1999 is still available online, as is Virginia Tech’s from 1998. What I do think is significant, however, is that at Edutools we can actually show a continuous development of the feature set that we use to compare these products from 1996 until our current one – certainly with changes and modifications over time, but it has been a relatively consistent point of comparison for almost 10 years now.

I am not a lwayer and don’t play one on TV, and I am sure there is enough weasily language included in the patent that Blackboard will have some success using it to bludgeon competitors and customers alike. But if the creation of this behemoth didn’t light a fire under your ass to do something different, maybe consider this a second opportunity to change course. – SWL