Blackboard Scribblings

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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