A fight over online learning

Education-software firm’s patent upsets rivals and schools.

Blackboard’s claims are “incredibly obvious,” said Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York’s online learning network and one of the bloggers who has criticized the company.

The company’s patent suggests “that they invented e-learning,” said Alfred Essa, associate vice chancellor and chief information officer of the Minnesota state college and university system.

Why are universities concerned? Many use off-the-shelf systems sold by Blackboard already. But others use those from rival companies like Desire2Learn, or mix and match to meet their own needs. Because universities are decentralized and have such varied systems, one size rarely fits all, Feldstein said. Many borrow from open-source courseware programs with names like “Moodle” and “the Sakai Project.”

Small, Blackboard’s general counsel, denies that the company is claiming to own the very idea of e-learning. He says Blackboard is focussed on commercial providers and has no intention of going after universities – its customers, after all – in court to collect royalties.

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/business/15426608.htm

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