Blackboard wins, learners lose

Blackboard has won That Patent case against Desire2Learn:

Earlier today [Friday 22nd Feb] the jury handed down its verdict that the patent is valid and that Blackboard should be awarded damages of approximately $3 million.

My colleague Grainne Conole can’t believe they won. Terry Anderson hopes this action:

further alienates users from Blackboard and it accelerates the exodus of fair minded educators from the ranks of Blackboard customers. I also hope that John has the resources to continue the fight with an appeal and wish him success if he does.

This is very disappointing. To my mind it’s another example of the (US) patent system being badly broken, particularly in the area of software. It’s very hard to see how learners win as a result of this. Unless it’s as Terry Anderson hopes, and educators leave Blackboard – and any other company that seems similarly-minded – in droves, to embrace a more open, collaborative approach to teaching and learning. (That’d be a lovely silver lining, but I’ve never been one to follow the RCP-style line that it’s desirable that things get worse in order to spur people to make them better.)

One step back doesn’t mean the journey is doomed, though, and I think it will eventually become clear that this was commercially – as well as ethically – a huge mistake by Blackboard.

EDIT: Stephen Downes has a more comprehensive summary of reaction. It’s not terribly positive.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.

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