Al Gore has yet to live down reports that he claimed to have invented the Internet. Now Blackboard is facing criticism from those who say the giant of the course management industry claims to have invented chat rooms. (If you are wondering, Blackboard says it never made such a claim.)
On Thursday, leading advocates for open source systems of course management announced that they were linking up with the Software Freedom Law Center to try to prepare legal and other defenses for attacks they fear will be coming from Blackboard.
“The recent announcement by Blackboard that it is attempting to assert patent rights over simple and longstanding online technologies as applied to the area of course management systems and e-learning technologies, and its subsequent litigation against a smaller commercial competitor constitutes a threat to the effective and open development of software for higher education and the values underlying such open activities,” said the announcement from the Sakai Foundation, which helps dozens of colleges and universities run open source course management systems.
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I’ve got a patent, and I’m not afraid to use it
There’s a lot to like about Blackboard, and it’s one of the best performers on the Hidden Gems scorecard. But I do have one major beef with this company, one that just recently reared its ugly head. Last month, Blackboard sued the much smaller Desire2Learn for patent infringement, based on what looks like a very broadly defined patent on using online tools for educational purposes. Not only does this practice rub me personally the wrong way, but there’s a definite risk that the move could counter its own original intent and end up scaring potential customers away.
Plenty of competition
There are other free alternatives, such as the Sakai Project or WebTycho; smaller and still-private companies like ANGEL Learning and Desire2Learn; and even international competition from HarvestRoad, which trades on the Australian stock market. There’s a lot of competition out there, in other words, and Blackboard’s respectable stature in the North American higher-education market isn’t always applicable to other parts of the globe. Many schools prefer to develop their own solutions, and those projects sometimes grow to provide other institutions with free or cheap e-learning software. ANGEL, Sakai, and WebTycho all started from internal university projects, for example. And these are all just education platforms.
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