News from the USA that Blackboard Inc, a leading provider of enterprise software and services to the education industry, has been issued a US patent for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods and, subsequently, is suing its competitor, Desire2Learn has caused concern among the e-learning communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
The patent in question covers core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-learning systems. In addition, patents corresponding with the US patent have been issued in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and are pending in the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil.
The patented technology underpins Blackboard’s e-learning software applications, including the Blackboard Learning System™, WebCT Vista™ and WebCT Campus Edition™.
Mark Pittaway, CEO of Learning Light, a non-profit organisation which is establishing itself as a Centre of Excellence in the use of learning technologies in the workplace, commented: “Things covered by this patent include client-server online courses in which users are defined as either students or instructors, the use of online drop boxes in an instructional setting, online grade books, online assessments, and many other common systems and methods that people in higher education and the corporate sector had used for years before the 30th June 2000 filing date of Blackboard’s patent request.
“Such a claim is surprising when there seems to be a large body of evidence that points against it – as set out, for example, at 'en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_virtual_learning_environments',” he added. “We would hope that the UK and European patent offices will recognise this and reject such a claim within Europe.”
Other commentators have speculated that, if Blackboard’s claims are upheld, it could prevent the use of open source initiatives such as Moodle and Sakai, as well as using a blog or wiki with a class of students. Indeed, they say, simple networking protocols, authentication practices and the like, if undertaken by a school, could be jeopardised by this patent.
“With the UK and European e-learning community and market having grown to its current size – and beginning to deliver significant benefits for both learners and their employers – it would be disappointing if one firm’s actions were to artificially limit the scope of this industry at this time,” Pittaway commented.
Notes for Editors:
About Learning Light Ltd
Learning Light is a non-profit organisation that builds relationships between learning technology researchers, suppliers, buyers and learners providing learner-centric information to encourage the growth of learning technologies. By sharing comprehensive research, highlighting successes and failures, Learning Light helps to promote the learning technologies community.
Learning Light provides bespoke and individual services to help both buyers and suppliers of learning technologies (e-Learning). Its current services include:
Providing access to expert insights, advice and guidance built on indepth research. Helping organisations to effectively implement learning technologies (e-Learning) and integrate them within their workflow processes.
Partnering with leading thinkers in the industry and providing a network for all interested in the field to share information, knowledge, insight, experience and expertise, through utilising online community tools, networking events, conferences and guru seminars.
Our highly experienced team offers organisations access to range of competitively priced consultancy services supporting buyers with the effective implementation of their learning technology (e-Learning) requirements. And, for suppliers, helping to provide a range of services to assist market awareness and generate growth.
In addition, Learning Light provides a comprehensive Professional Development programme to help Learning & Development professionals understand the significance of learning technologies in the workplace today and how to effectively implement them within the workflow processes of their organisation.
Sheffield-based Learning Light is supported by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency for Yorkshire, and the Humber and Objective 1 South Yorkshire.
Further information from:
Mark Pittaway/ Kay Simpson, Learning Light, 00 44 114 201 5703