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Education Patents The Courts

Blackboard Patent Invalidated By Appellate Court 142

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 meerling ( 1487879 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:39PM (#28854425)
    I'm not any kind of patent expert or anything like that, so take this guesswork with a few thousand grains of salt.

    I believe that prior art has to be listed for a variety of reasons. I'm pretty sure that one of them is to limit the scope and duration of that portion of any new patent that includes that same (?) feature. To not list prior art that they themselves own is kind of like trying to get a free (and faudulent) extension to the previous patent.
    (Kind of like expecting the warranty on your old stereo to be fully renewed because you bought a new knob for it.)

    Also, I've seen articles about several patents that just don't have enough substance to qualify for a patent after removing stuff covered by prior art. In which case, not listing your own prior art can be an attempt at getting a patent for something that doesn't qualify.

    A third possible reason why not listing your own prior art can be a legal or proceedural problem. That prior art may have it's own licensing or other IP agreements or issues, but if a new patent covers that same functionality without excluding it via prior art you're probably looking at a number of possible fraudulent lawsuits.
    (We already licensed patent zyy, and now they want us to pay again because it also violates patent zzx...)

    I'm sure you can see how patent trolls and other patent lowlifes can really abuse this.
  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:04PM (#28854851) Homepage

    Consider this headline: "Blackboard Breakdown: CUNY in a 'Very Difficult Box to Get Out of' After Online Centralization Plan Backfires". (CUNY, City University of New York, third-largest university system in the US, 21 campuses).

    "Blackboard 8 had never been used at a university close to the size of CUNY, where it has 130,000 users including 8,000 faculty members. When the semester started, Blackboard buckled under the load, which peaked at 35,000 users every three hours during peak activity. Sporadic Blackboard service during the first weeks of the semester meant many students could not submit their assignments, take quizzes or stay in contact with their instructors." []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:26PM (#28855245)
    Let's take your points in order

    IIt's easy to use (for students and professors),

    I've used it as a professor. Perhaps I've been spoiled by using actually half-decent systems like Angel and Moodle, but IMHO it's a steaming pile of bad UI. Why is the professor interface totally different from the student one, to start with the most obvious UI abortion?

    has virtually no downtime

    You really aren't very familiar with BB, are you? I'll direct you to the dcollins post at the bottom of the page where CUNY got to experience multiple failures of BB. This is *not* unusual- spend any amount of time talking to BB users and you'll get to hear stories of how it collapsed the week before finals and BB's legendarily awful tech support sat around doing nothing.

    I don't know why you spoke with DOJ and as such cannot comment on it.

    It's called an anti-trust investigation, triggered because BB has destroyed the commercial market in LMSes. Probably won't go anywhere, but we're not the only school that's been contacted.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @01:58PM (#28855769)

    ...and even when the institution (like mine) is still on the Blackboard tit, every department and member of staff is always on the lookout for alternatives. Last year we used Google Sites, this year we're using Drupal and Elgg (and maybe Moodle) all of which do VLE stuff better than BB.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:15PM (#28856067)

    A brief explanation of that behavior, Admodieus:

    I worked with Blackboard for awhile, although not directly for them, and this was mostly attributed to development flat-out refusing to even test compatibility with a beta product (Firefox 3 and IE8 come to mind from recent experience), since they didn't want to have to muck about with the code to get it to work, and then muck about with it even more when a given browser went from Beta to GA. As soon as any beta browser was made GA, development got to work on certifying compatibility.

    This also brings up Blackboard's definitions of Certified Compatibility. If a browser isn't certified compatible, that doesn't actually mean that it won't work, it just means that development hasn't yet run it through its paces. It's a crap-shoot as to whether or not it'll work.

    Note that I'm not defending their decisions (because frankly, I disagreed with development on a daily basis), just explaining their attitude.

    Hope that clears up that muck.

    P.S. IE8 support was broken due to hackish coding designed to work around issues caused by IE7 :)

  • by The Evil Couch ( 621105 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:51PM (#28856701) Homepage
    I rather hate their stuff as well. Their Java applets tend to crash a few times a week for me. I'm glad when they do, because everything loads considerably faster afterwards. It seems like whatever they have as their failsafe system works far better than their Java implimentation.
  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @02:54PM (#28856739)

    If you're seriously considering replacement options, I'm the designer and developer for another LMS that is AICC/SCORM compatible (single-SCO courses at this time) and includes registration and tracking for classroom-based courses in addition to the online stuff. Communication is pretty much one-way though, the students don't have a way to submit materials to instructors. The feature set is purely customer-driven, every feature the LMS has is there because someone asked for it. Anyway, I'm currently adding features to version 7 of the LMS, which I redesigned and rewrote from the previous versions to run on a PHP/MySQL platform and make use of the ExtJS framework for the interface (so it's heavy on Javascript). Our largest client installation has just over 70,000 total users and about 54,000 active students, with 350,000 training records representing 177,000 hours of tracked training. So, if you're in a position to make recommendations, you can find our website at The website is being redesigned and focuses almost entirely on courseware production as opposed to the LMS software, but you can contact us through the site if you want to schedule an LMS demo.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.