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Education Patents The Courts

Blackboard Patent Invalidated By Appellate Court 142

Posted by timothy
from the mechanism-for-doing-stuff-described-herein dept.
Arguendo writes "A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Blackboard Inc.'s patent on a learning management system is invalid in light of the inventors' own prior software product. We have previously discussed the patent and Blackboard's trial court victory against Desire2Learn. It's not completely over, but this is almost certainly the death knell for Blackboard's patent. If so inclined, you may read the appellate court's decision here (PDF) or on scribd."
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Blackboard Patent Invalidated By Appellate Court

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  • by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:37AM (#28853339)

    Along with the patent examiners, of course.

    If you look at the patents that Blackboard has, they basically make it *impossible* to have any kind of "intranet" site at an educational institution. Everything (almost literally everything) that you would want to have/do on a school's intranet, Blackboard has a patent for.

    It's fucking ridiculous, and if their patents are invalidated, everyone in the education industry will RUN AWAY from their product, which sucks.

  • Yay. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:39AM (#28853389) Journal
    As a prof, I hate blackboard. It is the buggiest, stupidest, slowest education software I have ever had the misfortune to use.

    Hopefully this will kill them, and force TPTB to get something that actually works.

  • by Admodieus (918728) <.john. .at. .misczak.net.> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:40AM (#28853411)
    I want to run away from their product even if the patents are not invalidated. They're all pieces of crap that rely heavily on Java applets and fail to support updates for browsers when they come out, like Firefox 3.5, Safari 4, etc. I remember two years ago, there was a period of time where they told users not to upgrade to Firefox 2 or IE7 because they didn't have support lined up for them yet.
  • by CodeShark (17400) <ellsworthpc.yahoo@com> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:42AM (#28853433) Homepage

    Because, as most /. readers tend to believe, "information wants to be free", and the Blackboad patent was so directly a contravention of that idea that even their own case filings ignored the idea of courseware to focus on a single aspect -- allowing a student who is also a teacher in another role -- to use one login. Then they used a faulty decision in that court to target their competitor -- who made no infringing claim.

    The appeal judges state "On the merits, we hold that those claims do not contain a âoesingle loginâ limitation and that the district courtâ(TM)s contrary interpretation of the claim language in its JMOL ruling was error" (I think they meant "erroneous").

    The problem is later where the Appeals court did not consider whether or note Blackboard's patent was wholely discardable because they did NOT rule as to whether or not the single login multiple role functionality is OBVIOUS or not.

    Prior art anyone?

  • by edremy (36408) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:43AM (#28853463) Journal
    Everybody already is running away. Check out the market share numbers- BB is on a serious decline, with most small schools like the one I work for ditching them for almost anything else.

    Sadly, we went for Angel, which has been bought out by BB so we need to do another switch. BB will be among the possible options we'll be putting out there for the committee, but given our previous miserable experience with them I'll be amazed if we pick it over either Moodle or Sakai.

  • Re:Yay. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cream wobbly (1102689) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:02PM (#28853753)

    I taught a course a while back where I directed students to refer to coursenotes for other courses, written by other lecturers, having made those lecturers aware I was doing so. A week later, nobody had read around the subject using notes from two lecturers in particular. Not being the most forthcoming in terms of volunteering why they hadn't done something, I asked them why, and my students informed me that Blackboard did not allow them to read other lecturers' coursenotes. Because they weren't enrolled on those other courses.

    Speaking to the other lecturers, it turns out that it would mean they would have to jump through hoops to allow "non enrolled" students to read those notes via Blackboard. In fact, I myself could not read those notes. So we just enrolled me, and I copied and pasted to my own Intranet pages.

    Now, I can imagine why in some situations you might want to "protect" readers or information -- such as in a hospital or a business situation, but this was at a friggin' university, where "reading around" is the lifeblood of learning. Why on earth is it the default to hide coursenotes from students who are not enrolled on a particular course?

    Of course, the best bit was that the Unix-based Intranet hosted the best quality notes anyway. Plus, it worked in all browsers.

    I also remember a competition to rename "Blackboard". Some of the suggestions were sensible and didn't show much imagination (kinda like Microsoft products): "Chalkboard", "Whiteboard", "Intranet". Others were appropriate, and described the product more fully. However, you wouldn't say them in polite company.

  • Dead company walking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:03PM (#28853763) Homepage

    You know when some company with a totally crap product starts looking at their patent portfolio for survival...you know, like SCO...that they don't have much going for them. Instead of putting that time and money into making their products better, they put their best efforts into litigation. You know that's a red flag for any company.

    Can we please trade eastern district of Texas back to Mexico? That court is a plague on business and an anchor on innovation.

  • Re:Yay. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dickens (31040) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:41PM (#28854469) Homepage

    Hell, I've taken blackboard courses where you had to type in a friggin' license number from the back of the $125 paper-back textbook in order to have the "right" to read the "supplementary material" on the publisher's web site (that was required reading). The whole course was bought pre-packaged and plugged in to blackboard. Boy did it suck, too. Can't imagine what the prof in question was getting paid for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:46PM (#28854547)
    Speaking as someone who does this for a living...

    Well first, the whole "BB execs should all be killed" is a tad bit extreme. There are worse things in life then someone who has a complex patent.

    Well, killin's too good for them, but "complex patent"? The bulk of it covers the idea that when you log into the system you might have different roles in different courses- a student in one, a TA in another, etc. Hardly complex.

    Second Blackboard is a leading industry LMS provider - they are really good at what they do.

    I'm unclear what exactly they do well. Making a easy to use, stable and featureful LMS certainly isn't it. Suing people doesn't seem to be working well either. They do do a wonderful job of buying superior products (Prometheus, WebCT, Angel) and killing them while losing the customers on those products, so you might have something there.

    Third Blackboard has plenty of competition. If schools wanted to leave Blackboard they have plenty of choices.

    Really? I suppose that's why I had a nice chat with some DOJ lawyers recently since we are an Angel customer. We really don't have any commercial options- there's virtually no market left that BB can't either buy or sue into oblivion. D2L is holding out so far, but for how much longer given BB's deep pockets and willingness to open more and more suits? Sakai and Moodle are options, but if your business plan involves volunteer labor or grant money, I think you might not have much of a market.

  • I'm pretty neutral on it, honestly. I'm not for vigilantism and its inherent societal breakdown, but I'd have a hard time convicting someone like that guy from Texas [slashdot.org] who's being sued by patent trolls, apparently for no other reason than that he's from Texas, were he to take the law into his own hands.

    Maybe Americans should start taking their democratic rights more seriously before blaming "the government" and "the Wall Street executives".

    I'd say that's exactly what he'd be doing.

  • Re:Yay. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:19PM (#28856131) Homepage

    As a Dutch student I have the right to follow any lecture at any university in the country. Due to Blackboard I cannot even access last years lecture notes of my own study, let alone those of any other study. Hell, I can't even look up the schedule.

  • Re:Woot! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @03:05PM (#28856919) Journal

    This does not qualify as patent trolling. Patent trolling is making/buying a patent that has no actual product behind it (or never making use of the product) and then hanging out hoping others would make a similar product and then sueing for profit. Blackberry has been using their product for years now and they are an industry leader in LMS technology.

    Blackboard's "patents" are all based on prior art. Blackboard is nothing more than a database driven web site, and adds nothing novel or non-obvious. Most of their features exist in your basic blog sites. They are as much patent trolls as Amazon was for 1-click shopping.

  • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @04:01PM (#28857881)

    It's not all that difficult to set up a system where you log in, click on a course to launch it, and the course communicates with the LMS. That's only one small part of the LMS though, there are a lot of managerial things to set up also.

    I've worked for the same company for the past 7 years, the core business of the company is producing online training courses but when I started we did have an LMS also that we built. At the time it was on version 5, and had started as a research project for Intel in 1998. It was written in ASP/VBScript, and used a SQL Server database. Through 5 versions it had never had a formal design document, every single feature was just added in somewhere when a customer asked for it. One of my first big LMS projects here was working on version 6, which was the first version to support SCORM in addition to AICC. After a while I finally got my boss to agree to let me redesign and rewrite the LMS from the ground up, and we finally got a customer who was willing to help fund it. So, about 3000 man-hours later, we've got version 7 (7.1.8 at this point) which runs on PHP/MySQL and uses the ExtJS framework for the interface, which I actually did create a design document and database structure for before beginning development.

    The course launching and tracking parts didn't take that long to develop. SCORM takes a little while to set up, but AICC is pretty quick. But logging into the main admin area gives you a menu with these items:

    Users - see all users (students, instructors, user group admins, sub-admins, main admins), add/edit/delete users, assign users to content, assign users to user groups.

    Registration fields - custom user demographic fields, 30 total, each can be a text field, number field, date field, or dropdown list, with basic validation and various options for whether the students can fill them out or change them, only admins can, if they can be used to sort in the user list, etc.

    User Groups - users are divided into groups, each user can be a member of 0 or more groups, groups are nested in a tree structure, you can manually assign users or user group admins to a group, specify which content or content groups a user group has access to, specify rules to automatically assign users to groups based on the custom registration fields. Autoassignments are a big part, if you have a user register and they put in maybe a certain country for one of their fields, you can set up a rule to automatically assign them to a certain user group that gives them access to certain content without the admin needing to assign it to them manually.

    Content - add/edit/remove online training, online tests (the LMS has a test creator for creating T/F, multiple choice, or essay tests), classroom training, or other online resources. Content is grouped into categories in a folder structure, there are various "wizards" to upload or edit the content.

    Content groups - similar content can be grouped together, making it easier to assign entire courses of study to a user or user group.

    Classrooms - set up physical locations for classroom training.

    Classroom sessions - set up a session for a certain classroom course to be taught at a certain location with a certain instructor at a certain date/time. Students can register for and drop out of class sessions, emails get sent to give them information about the waiting list, location, etc.

    Record Entry - admins can manually enter training records for students.

    News & Updates - admins can set up news stories announcing new courses or whatever, news stories can apply to user groups so that when a user logs in they see news from their groups.

    Reports - many, many reports for the admins.

    General settings - various options, split up into 6 categories (Login, Passwords, Users, Email, General Admin, User Group Admin).

    Admin Tools - "advanced" tools to do things like upload LMS interface graphics, check on what a user has access to and how they got access to it, delete records, etc.

  • The problem isn't Bb (Score:2, Interesting)

    by apunahasapeemapetala (656835) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @11:48PM (#28862069)
    ...it's the competition. I administer a moderately-sized Bb 8 installation (some 1000s of concurrent users, we migrated from 6.3 last semester without too much trouble, and without paying Bb their outrageous consultancy fees) and in all honesty, we would LOVE to ditch Blackboard. Bb 8 is a heckuva lot better than 6.3 but it's still pretty much inadequate. We have a moodle setup up and running for a different part of our online courses, and it gets used pretty thoroughly. HOWEVER, and I hate to say it, moodle is not a replacement for Bb. Not even close. Personally I'm all about the FOSS stuff, but if we tried to mandate migrating from Bb to moodle, our faculty would absolutely explode (this is an highly-rated engineering college and they're quite tech-literate) because most of them just don't have the time or the inclination to revamp their tried-and-true online course material, let alone chase a whole new set of bugs/workarounds incumbent in moving to a new CMS. Inertia is a powerful force :\

    I sincerely hope this decision gets us a little closer to having a real alternative to Bb, because paying them to "develop" such a inadequate CMS just feels a lot like highway robbery

    PS Bb on commodity 1u servers running Centos 5.3 is WAY faster than on Solaris 10 boxes. We still use Solaris for the Oracle backend but the performance under linux just beat the pants off slowlaris (hate to say it cause I'm a solaris guy)

Murphy's Law, that brash proletarian restatement of Godel's Theorem. -- Thomas Pynchon, "Gravity's Rainbow"

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