02 August 2006

Will the US PTO Ever Learn?

Blackboard has announced

it has been issued a U.S. patent for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods. The patent covers core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.

That's putting it mildly. If you waste your life reading the summary, kindly placed online in a reader-friendly format by Michael Feldstein, you will find to your utter gob-smacked amazement that Blackboard has essentially been granted a patent on the idea of logging on to a Web server and accessing pages that contain educational materials:

The user is provided with a web page comprising a plurality of course hyperlinks, each of the course hyperlinks associated with each course that the user has been enrolled either as an instructor or as a student. Selection of a course hyperlink will provide the user with a web page associated with the selected course; the web page having content hyperlinks and buttons to various content areas associated with the course.

It's about as broad and utterly ridiculous as granting a patent for the idea of accessing a Web page with a "plurality" of links on any particular subject. (I know, I know - somebody has probably applied for this too.)

Fortunately, the broader a patent, the easier it is to find prior art to drive a stake through its black(board) heart. And Moodle - an open source course management system, which is obviously seriously threatened by this idiotic US PTO decision - has compiled a wonderfully detailed history of online learning. It not only puts the boot into Blackboard's pathetic claims, but provides a useful resource in itself. It ends its long, long list of prior examples of online learning with the laconic:

2006, July - Blackboard announces Patent 6,988,138

With this patent Blackboard seem to be claiming they invented everything above.

How many of these stupid decisions will it take before somebody sorts out the US PTO?

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