A showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents

This week’s buzz has been the press release by Blackboard Inc. that announced, well, that Blackboard actually has invented e-learning or at least, the virtual learning environments. S.Downes gives a good run down on the blog postings on the issue out there.

Like many have noted and protested against, there is plethora of cases of prior-art on what Blackboard Inc. claims to have invented, and what the US. Patent authority has granted them.

A great initiative called “History of virtual learning environments” has started in Wikipedia that currently is collecting and documenting our e-learning history in a form of cases of prior-art in the area of virtual learning environments. This will be an indispensable source of information, sort of poor man’s portfolio of counter arguments, whenever it comes to a patent litigation in court over this given issue. Which, it seems, could be anticipated; it sounds like Blackboard is giving some indication that it might be using its 30-global-patents-and-patents-pending-portfolio aggressively (from the FAQ:

“My institution doesn’t use a Blackboard system but uses a competitor’s course management system. How are we affected?”
Answer: Evaluating patents can be complex and because we don’t know the specifics of how your system works, we would encourage you to consult with your CMS provider for answers.”

Just imagine all the CMS providers freaking out on this! Another story is whether anyone can afford opposing this patent in court, as potential targets might be open source initiatives like Moodle, Sakai, etc. and the educational institutions using them. However, like Mr. Attwell notes: let’s hope that big companies will take care of the fight: SAP apparently has pending e-learning patents, too. 😉

Moreover, the saga continues to other countries and continents where Blackboard Inc. has deposit patent claims for the same patent. To be precise, we here at the EU-land have also had our share of attention: the European Patent Office’s database has a record of a pending claim on “EP1192615: Software Patent: Internet-based education support system and methods”.

How will that effect on our life is still in the mist. It is a known fact that the EU is still giving a priority to strengthen Intellectual Property Rights, but where do software patents stand on that seem pretty cryptic to a common citizen.

After the last Public Consultation and public hearing on future patent policy in Europe in July, it seems that the two DGs in the European Commission can’t find a common message to sent out, whereas the European patent litigation agreement (EPLA) is being set up all without the Commission’s involvement by the the European Patent Convention (EPC).

Hey, little things count: we started collecting names on the petition to raise awareness against possible e-learning patents in Europe last Spring. This was to flag our concerns to people who were preparing the Public Consultation and public hearing on future patent policy in EU.

Keep discussing about this issue and ask your colleagues and friends to sign the petition online! It’s good to show to our policy-makers and corporate folks that there are many people who do not want to be part of the software patent hell, but just get on with our work.

The petition to sign:


2 replies on “A showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents”

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