P.S. Software Patents are Evil.
P.P.S. I'm not worried as I think there is plenty of prior art.
I'm with Martin. Going after Moodle, or for that matter any oter LMS system would hurt their own reputation more than help them.
The fact is it sounds pretty much like they have tried to patent a concept(LMS) rather than a specific technology or process. I can't believe they were able to do this. I understand a need to protect intellectual copywrite. The ability to protect ones own invention is paramount to truning it into a succesful venture. But if I was to invent a new rasberry flavoured fizzy drink and patent softdrinks as a whole..I would be laughed out of the room. But sadly this is what looks like has happended here. Blackboard are more than entitled to protect their intellectual property...and god help anyone who copies their system, but geee..if they tried to attck the other wide range of LMS's with different methodologies, technologies and design..I cant really see them holding this up.
So,let's just see what happens, And in the meantime Im off to patent 'stupid ideas'. Ill make a fortune off that one
I dropped in WOLF/Learnwise which we've used for years just to add to the timeline.
As an aside my secondary school had a few commordore PETs and I remember taking a test which was marked by the tutor centrally back in 1984 ish. I think we had to save our results on 5.25" floppys or cassette or something and hand them in. Not quite networked VLE, but going in the general direction.
One such function developed by the company is the ability of a single user to access multiple courses under different roles. For example, graduate students are able to access classes for which they are teaching assistants and classes they are taking as students
For those of you attending the Desire2Learn Users Conference today in Guelph this will be redundant information. For those of you not attending, we are sorry you are not here but we wanted to share some information with you in the spirit of our company's historical and ongoing collaborative approach with our clients.
On Wednesday, July 26, Blackboard Inc. issued a press release about a patent that was issued to them by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. That day, Blackboard Inc., a Washington, D.C. corporation, filed suit against Desire2Learn Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging that Desire2Learn is infringing on the patent Blackboard announced that day.
We are disappointed that Blackboard turned to the court system before discussing its claims with us. We intend to defend the action vigorously, but because we just received notice two business days ago, we are unable to comment further at this time. Please understand that due to the nature of litigation some information can not be provided at this time. We pledge that as we are able to provide additional clarity on this matter, we will share information with all of our clients.
Given the current U.S. litigation climate, patent actions are not unusual. While the matter is serious and will require our attention, it will not affect our day-to-day business, product roadmap, attention to client success, or future directions. We have established a team to address strategy and develop an action plan.
We remain confident in our market leadership through continuing innovation and differentiation; superior client support and service; track record of growth; marquee client list (as is evident here at our conference), and extraordinary employees.
Thank you again for your continued commitment and support. As the litigation progresses we may ask you for to provide certain information and we hope you will consider cooperating if we do so.
Should you have any questions please direct them to Jeremy Auger (COO), John McLeod (Director of Marketing), Diane Lank (Internal/US Counsel), or myself.
Our plans here at the Users Conference have not changed; we know this will be our best Users Conference to date given the incredible number of attendees, superb speakers, schedule of informative and fun events, and wonderful host/venue.
The oldest documented (ISBN 90 6472 042 8) educational project in The Netherlands: Leren met computers in het onderwijs
names: A. Dirkzwager, J. Beishuizen, G. van der Veer, R. van de Perel, F. Brazier,
In december 1968 Project 0113B funded by the Foundation for Educational Research (SVO) was started by two Dutch universities. Starting from 1968 schools were connected with terminals to mainframes:
An overview book from 1996, that is two years before 1968..
Telelearning in a digital world: the future of distance learning, Bety Collis
ISBN 1 85032 157 4 (http://www.student.cardonald.ac.uk/sln/fv/nav/web/pack/ss1/21century.html)
I remember working with UMUC on an elearning product called Webtycho
The link provides the history of Webtycho
As a University professor I got involved in elearning testing almost all the elearning systems from 1980.
I remember at the earliest point of time WebCT and Bb approached us for beta testing their versions before going to the market.
During 1999-2000 I engaged coders, commissioned and deployed an elarning framework for my University.
I will search my files to get the earlier correspondence we had with Bb
I am to proclaim that elearning is organic (mental process) and Moodle is costructional and not a mechanical process.
I dont know whether Patent will cover the mental process.
I still remember an article where how the patent office refused to patent a graduate student's graduate project work training of pigeopns to do quality checking in a pharma industry and the Patent refusal was based on the fact that it is a mental process and not a mechanical process.
It sounds like you will be a hugely valuable resource in the fight against Blackboard. I invite you to participate in the history timeline at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_virtual_learning_environments.
With regard to patenting a mental process, I used to tell my students that you can't patent an idea but now it seems you can. One of the first was Amazon's "one-click" patent. Although it is under review because a teacher from New Zealand challenged it on the basis of an earlier patent that was issued for essentially the same thing. See http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060519-6872.html. This gives us hope.
After a quick check on the ATutor forums, and seeing there was no discussion about the patents, I've gotten in touch with Greg Gay -- he says:
If you are looking for evidence of LMS type apps prior to 1999, > here's a study we did early that year.
We'll be in contact with the patent office in Canada, to make sure no patent is issued here.
We're onboard on this too.
and I think that study is good stuff and having them on board is great.
I'm a bit of a newbie, can someone please explain how patents affect customers?
Martin - you raise an interesting point .... that Patents only affect Developers. One other issue that people have not addressed is the fact of IP. If any of the people cited in the original Patent Document have moved on and still engaged in the industry, it raises issues on IP ownership. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
A couple of simple and effective approaches. Concentrate of the Institutions that are using Blackboard and demonstrate the stifling affect this Patent will have on their learning environments (having to follow one pathway and solution) and their longer term abilities to promote innovative learning within their institutions. Influence the bean counters of the institutions that a good slice of their licence fees are to fund legal action against flexible learning innovation - the very core of education.
I appreciate it is a simplistic view in the initial stages, but many in the hierarchy need view it in broad simplistic terms understand the implied impact. Then we can get into the complexities.
One question for MD ….. has Bd copied any of your development IP in the enhancements of their program that has crept its way into the patent …. Or for that matter any one else’s?
Food for thought
What i disagree with quite strongly is Blackboard's claim to be a 'thought leader' in online learning technologies in their patent press release where in the reviews of VLE / LMS systems that Oleg Liber and I authored in 1999 and 2004 for JISC their approach in comparison to other systems around seemed to be anything but innovative - from a pedagogical standpoint at least. googling 'a framework for the pedagogical evaluation of vles' will find it for anyone who is interested
From our original report I seem to remember that a number of the web-based systems we looked at pre-dated blackboard. TopClass was one, I'm pretty sure that Virtual-U also did, along with FirstClass and others. Our own work on the 'Toolkit for the Management of Learning', later to become Colloquia dated from 1997. I'll add it to the online history..
And reminding people that Blackboard is suing their competitors may just cause the people buying the products to take a wait and see approach until the lawsuit pans out.
Good point...I had this exact discussion today with a university leader...university leaders are taking notice of this and it would be foolish of anyone in this business to just blow it off and not worry about it.
It will be interesting to see how this turns out, but I think there is the potential for this to be more serious than many believe. Patents and Trademarks are good things...until you become the victim of one
On a side note...I started teaching online classes in the mid 90s with a very large online university...the University of Phoenix Online Campus. We used "Convene" a very basic LMS (I think the university started using it in about 1990) and later (around 1998) switched to Outlook Express Newsgroups. There is plenty of "prior art".....online learning was happening long before Blackboard...whether that will matter or not remains to be seen.
Patents corresponding to the U.S. patent have been issued or are pending all over the world including in the European Union
Well, they are pending and they will be for a while in the European Union, as software patents are not legal in the EU.
However, he [Blackboard VP Small] also said that had Blackboard not merged with WebCT, then WebCT would have been infringing the patent.That suggests to me that Moodle, Sakai, UCompass, Angel and all the other course management systems are at risk. No, Blackboard isn't likely to sue schools and universities (after all they are all potential customers) but you can bet they'll play the, "You know, if you go to market with XXXX product you will be violating our patent" threat to the hilt against anyone who produces course management software (anyone who might take a customer away from them) including Moodle Pty Ltd and the Sakai Foundation.
Clearly they went after Desire2Learn because it is Bb's next biggest commercial competitor after WebCT which it bought last year. It would be harder to sue the open source systems like Moodle (Who would you sue - Martin?).
This discussion has focused on learning management systems in the education area. There are also at least 100 LMS competitors in the corporate sector - Saba, SumTotal Systems, Plateau, Training Partner, GeoLearning, Learn.com, etc., etc. The first four of these also existed prior to 1997 (when Blackboard started). SumTotal Systems was previously known as Click2Learn and, before that Asymetrix - makers of ToolBook and founded by Paul Allen in 1984.
The way I read the patent, Blackboard could also go up against all of these people. This is indeed scary and we should support Desire2Learn (a smaller but good Canadian company). At http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=31833 you can read the story of a New Zealand actor who convinced the patent office to re-examine Amazon's "one-click" patent (which, I believe, was among the first patents for an idea). He claims that a previous patent was issued for essentially the same thing. If anyone received a patent or submitted a patent application prior to 1999 we would have a case. Is that likely?
The patents cover other e-learning technologies and specifications other than the 44 claimed in Blackboard’s first patent to be granted in the United States. It appears that they could potentially be claiming to have invented Learning Objects, multi-language LMS, embedded HTML text editors, as well as the original claims of many core functions of LMS systems."We need to set up a website for registering support against Blackboard and collaborating internationally to take down these claims. As a safeguard, we should also patent the idea of a web application being used as a means of organising and facilitating international social action and collaboration. ;)
Well, I always recommend hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Seems like that might be a good policy in this case, too.
If it proves necessary to do so, I will contribute whatever money I can afford to this noble cause. And I will certainly contact the appropriate politicians to help educate them about this issue. That's about all I can do, I guess. (Of course, I am open to suggestions.)
These are always very tough situations but I would take a defensive and offensive strategy.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Defensive: If Moodle happens to violate Blackboards patent then position it where is doesn’t. For instance, if Moodle (core) was simply a collaboration platform that third-party people made add-on modules and blocks that together created a LMS-like product. Then neither Moodle or any individual add-ons violate the patent. This idea might be a long-shot but it seems right to me. People who wanted an CMS/LMS/VLE would have to build it themselves or someone would create a script that would gather these remote modules and combine them. I think this would work if Moodle (by different add-ons) could become something else like just a blog site, or a wiki site or just a SCORM testing tool. Blackboard would have to sue a whole group of people whose unique combination of products happen to create a LMS-like application.
Offensive: What if one of the third-party add-ons converted a Desire2Learn course to a compatible format which could be used by a Moodle-like product. As Blackboard sues others more conversion modules appear.
The wording of Blackboard's patent applications is very interesting - not so much perhaps in what they are claiming technologically but in how they describe and identify learning. Notice, for example, how they talk about Blackboard as a learning "support" system. Do they have some idea of protecting the Blackboard VLE as a blended learning delivery system? If a system "supports" learning, where is the core learning taking place?
If you look closely at the text of their patent application there is continual reference to their VLE and its tools as means of "instruction". (It's impossible to describe tools and facilities without implying a learning theory and its pratices.) This instructional emphasis by Blackboard is something we have been aware of for years - particularly in the UK. In many instances, in order to provide effective learning, we have to work around the obstacles presented by Blackboard structures.
Blackboard is inherently (and seems to have been designed and marketed as such) a content delivery and testing environment with an underlying knowledge delivery metaphor of learning. All of which mirrors somewhat dated conceptions of instruction that are, unfortunately, still fairly widespread - probably more so in the USA than elsewhere. However, the significant advances in elearning have all come about through a recognition and development of online learning communities, where peer-to-peer interaction and content creation are more important than how a teacher delivers knowledge or tests skills. To me, this is the gap in Blackboard's claims for a learning system. They continue to misunderstand the nature of learning in general and hence of elearning in particular.
"It would make no sense for Blackboard to go after open-source programs like Moodle and Sakai, he said, because they are not commercial providers"
This approach makes sense for Blackboard, as to "go after" Moodle or other OS alternatives would be detrimental (I suspect and hope).
However, having secured this patent it would be naive not to expect Blackboard to parade it in marketing material and sales presentations, placing the prospect of future litigation firmly in the minds of decision makers. The entire situation is an ideal opportunity to spread FUD.
As someone has suggested earlier (in the JISC VLE discussion), one always expects commercial entities to protect and further their market presence and profits. However, given what is at stake for education globally the whole affair is quite unsavoury.
No matter what the facts of the matter may be I would hope that the question posed in any (of the many) discussions on this topic in future will be "Do you want to do business with people like this?"
So is anyone working on a Desire2Learn to Moodle Conversion Module???
As long as Bb is not after Moodle. Moodle might be the only one to offer soon-to-be ex-D2L users a safe harbor.
From India - By a leading daily from Mumbai - Times of India
Patent may snip India’s e-learning hopes
Mumbai: While it is true that the market for online education in India is
barely Rs 500 crore, it is also true that the space is growing rapidly. But
more importantly, Indian companies are hoping to grab a share of the global
business expected to be valued at $21 billion by 2008. But even before it
takes off, the business may have hit a huge road block.
Washington-based Blackboard, has been granted a patent for technology used
to deliver internet-based education and support. The patent is already
applicable in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Its sweep spans
every little bit of online education including processes like how courses
are offered and managed. The patent is now pending in other countries
Signalling what it intends to do with the patent, on the day it was
awarded, Blackboard sued Canadian company Desire2Learn, its main competitor
in the market that caters to American students.
Even as lawyers at the Delhi-based NIIT are studying the fine print of
Blackboard’s patent, industry experts say Indian companies enrolling
USbased students for their e-learning programmes need to watch out. Any
infringement of Blackboard’s patent may invite a law suit running into
hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Says Samudra Sen, CEO of Mumbai-based LearningMate Solutions, which
works with leading e-learning companies globally, “The patent is certainly
going to be an irritant.’’
Founded in 1997, Blackboard filed its patent request in June 2000, when
e-learning systems were already in use for many years. The company’s patent
encompasses many commonly used methods that companies and universities have
used to deliver their courses to students.
Says a private equity investor, who funded online education companies,
“The patent is so generic, it is not funny. It covers everything that a lay
person will know about e-learning. I don’t think it will stand scrutiny.’’
Yet, it is the all encompassing patent that worries the industry. In the
past, despite computer programs being obvious and known for many years
before patent application, courts have upheld the patents.
Cadtrak, a company which owns a patent involving a cursor on the screen,
collects million of dollars from large computer manufacturers for using its
The courts upheld the patent twice though the technique as used at least
five years before the patent application. UK patents covering customary
graphics techniques, including airbrushing, stencilling, and combination of
two images under control of a third one, were recently upheld in court,
despite the testimony of the pioneers of the field that they had developed
these techniques years before.
In the software industry, nothing protects programmers from accidentally
using a technique that is patented, and then being sued for it.
At first blush though, Indian companies don’t seem worried yet. They
feel the patent can cover only specific systems and there are many avenues
to deliver e-learning without infringing on Blackboard’s patents.
For example, popular exams like GRE and GMAT have been administered on a
client-server based platform for many years. These tests follow a unique
system of adaptive questioning, where the system increases or decreases the
difficulty of the next question based on the answer to the previous one.
Since Blackboard’s patent is specific to its methods, the patent won’t
affect these popular tests.
Says Vijay Thadani, CEO of Delhi-based NIIT, “Internet technology is
vast and evolving. There are numerous ways to deliver courses online and
assess students. I don’t think we will worry very much about this patent.’’
But the patent has already created a buzz in the e-learning space. Many
reckon this could be the defining make or break moment for online learning
US-based Blackboard gets a patent for net-based learning management systems
in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore
Patents pending with EU, China, India, Israel and few other countries
The patent covers an extensive list of 44 processes including common ones
like registration, online assessments and grade book
Schools can get into trouble for undertaking simple networking tools, user
authentication process and other commonly used functions like discussion
boards as a result of the patent
Online learning companies in India still not worried by the patent, saying
it is too generic and will not stand the test in court
International Community to Combat unethical elearning business practices
I posted a couple of early Japanese online education book titles (with concrete examples in 1999 and 2000) to the wiki and have contacted a couple of experts in online education in Japan to ask them if they know of any early online education systems. I also contacted the maker of "quiztest" the testing system I used before I started using Moodle.
However, my guess is that it will not be sufficient that a teacher in 1985 told his students to go home and have a look at an internet quiz. Again I guess that there is going to be some definition of a learning/educatoin "system" or "environment", with certain components, perhaps
grades in one area
more than one type of resource/activity
Once we know what the definition is, then we can go and look for it.
For new readers, here is a recap of the issue:
BlackBoard Inc. (the dominant provider of e-learning software in the online-education market, after they acquired two other education-technology companies, Prometheus and WebCT) was granted a very broad US patent in January 2006, covering pretty much all the aspects of a common virtual learning environment. They are trying to get the patent accepted world wide. If they get away with it, it means that BlackBoard will have the monopoly of the eLearning market. (Text of the patent, see the abstract: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6,988,138.PN.&OS=PN/6,988,138&RS=PN/6,988,138)
Nobody seemed to have noticed the patenting process, even during the 6 month period in which people or organisations can protest against the patent (naturally, BlackBoard kept it under wraps). However, as soon as the waiting period was over, BlackBoard announced that they now had the patent and would enforce it retroactively (I believe until 1997, the year the company was founded). http://www.blackboard.com/patent/patentpress.htm
The very same day BlackBoard filed a patent infringement suit against the Canadian eLearning provider Desire2Learn, which presently is BlackBoard's major competitor in North America. The suit was filed in a rural Texas court (one can assume that BlackBoard figures that it will be easier to get their way with a bunch of nationalist hayseeds on the jury, no offence intended). Text of the suit: http://www.theinquirer.net/images/articles/blackboard.pdf
The outcome of this law suit will have an important impact on eLearning. It is therefore of interest to us all to follow the procedure and to take action against the monopolisation of eLearning by one US commercial giant. http://www.boycottblackboard.org/index.php
The open source community is gathering evidence of prior art, so as to prove that BlackBoard did not invent most of the functionality they have now patented (See and contribute to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_virtual_learning_environments and/or http://docs.moodle.org/en/Online_Learning_History or http://www.desire2learn.com/patentinfo/)
This litigation once again shows that software patents are not conducive to the development of fair and open standards in eLearning and European Moodlers should support the European Parliament in its opposition to such patents. Support, for instance: http://petition.eurolinux.org/index_html?LANG=en
See also: http://noedupatents.org/
I'm trying to paste this in the wiki but its not getting done, pls help someone :
5th Century BC : Nalanda
The origin of Virtual Learning Environment can be traced to the 5th Century BC, when Indian Philosophers thought of ways to teach people without the ned to actually show what they were talking about. They thought that if they invented a platform in which learners can actively learn, communicate, collaborate and be tested, the paltorm would be an instant hit and they would patent it later.
They implemented their idea by setting up the Nalanda Uniersity in India. more details here This university, in the 5th centruy BC, catered to 10000+ and great teachers including Buddha. This university was the first platform promogating a Virtual Learning Environment - a place where the object about which teaching happens does not exist. unfortunately, this platform got destroyed in the year 1193 before the patent system could start, so the application for patent of this system which was written in the 5th Century BC could never be filed. Since then, all the schools, colleges and universities around the world have copied this Virtual Learning Environment.
Some private companies in the world have copied this platform onto the internet and in future would copy it in to newer systems, but the fact will remain that the system was invented and thought of long ago and therefore, no one today can claim of having created it.
Slightly OT but still rather Interesting, searching on the BB site (try common LMS names). I bumped into an interesting presentation from May 2006 by T.Gidy (Executive Vice President of Operations).
Where he talks about walking in the shoulder of Giants.
The Giants he includes are:
Leonardo Da Vinci
Martin Luther King
and on slide 27 some Australian guy who created his very own VLE.
Some argue that BB is using the courts as a competitive tool. An effective fly in the ointment if the hundreds of thousands of opensource LMS users filed intervenor status not just in Texas, but in every legal jurisdiction in the world. It costs little to file a writ. The result would be akin to using the judical system just as they have - by choosing the most favorable jurisdiction to litigate. By filing writs in every legal jurisdiction in the civilized (world) their lawyers would spend a fortune just sorting out the mess. It would be akin to a legal denial of service attack on BB.
Just a thought!
In the wake of recent efforts to limit the free and open sharing of innovation for online learning, the Sakai Foundation has retained the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), an organization directed by Eben Moglen and dedicated to providing advice and legal services to protect and advance free and open source software, to evaluate the recent Blackboard patent, its impact on the educational community, and to advise on legal matters regarding the patent.
Are there any updates on this issue? There are all kinds of rumors and hearsay flying around my institution about the fate of Moodle.
I'd obviously hope that no news is good news!
The Blackboard Patent Pledge
Blackboard is making today patent pledge to the open source and home-grown course management community. announcing a legally-binding, irrevocable, world-wide pledge not to assert any of our issued or pending patents related to course management systems or transaction systems against the use, development or support of any open source or home-grown course management systems.
See Click Here
Congratulations to all !
I found this information for you. It is a history of Learnlinc, a virtual campus and web conferencing tool. I tried using it back in 1998-2000. I sent you the link and the text of the page to your email. For those who wish to see it, here is the link.
"It is a good thing Uncle Bill does not have a product or combination of products that could be construed to violate the Blackboard patent(s).
What really matters is if a judge will decide to hear a case. It doesn't matter if any LMS decides they don't violate this patent. It only matters if a judge decides to hear the case, and send the claim to (a potentially expensive) trial. Many a corporation have folded in the face of a possible trial, even ones that they knew they could win, just because of the threat of a lawsuit by a powerful corporation.
(Edited by Helen Foster to remove links - original submission Sunday, 5 June 2011, 06:51 PM)
So basically they feel they patented the "online education portal" script? If that's the case then myspace could sue facebook.com, since it's a similar site in function. It's a shame that an educational platform would care to waste their time with attacking another, as they're both beneficial to students and the world community.