Color me unimpressed with Blackboard’s latest move in its ongoing war to kill innovation in the courseware market by patenting obvious CMS features in the education market.
Blackboard is now promising that it won’t go after non-profits and universities who develop their own internal or open sourced courseware. But it is still pursuing actions against its competitors, which will detrimentally affect the courseware market by stifling innovation there.
Fortunately, several groups opposed to the awarding of the overly-broad patents to Blackboard have teamed up with the Software Freedom Law Center to challenge the patents. In November 2006, the UPSTO agreed to re-examine all 44 of the claims of the Blackboard patents in question.
Richard Fontana of the Software Freedom Law Center isn’t buying Blackboard’s latest gambit, noting that Blackboard has confused the issue by suggesting it might still sue open source projects that are bundled with proprietary code.
CNET News.Com’s Stephen Shankland quotes Fontana as saying,
Blackboard could have acted responsibly by making a clear and unqualified commitment not to assert its patents against open-source software. Instead, Blackboard has produced a convoluted document in which, for example, it reserves the right to assert the patent against open source software that is “bundled” with other software, an ill-defined concept that could potentially cover most circumstances in which open e-learning software is used.
Hopefully the USPTO will do the right thing and render this debate moot by invalidating the patents it awarded to Blackboard.
Education software firm OKs open-source patent use. Stephen Shankland, February 1, 2007.