Why Blackboard's Decision Not To Sue Open Source Providers Over Patents Is Nothing To Cheer About

from the that-doesn't-help-much dept

Just as the US Patent Office has agreed to review Blackboard's e-learning patents, the company has announced that it won't try to enforce its patents (current and future) against open source e-learning software providers or against universities who build their own, in-house, solutions. Instead, they'll simply focus on for-profit competitors. While that's a relief to those open source groups and universities, it's unfortunate that those same groups have "endorsed" the move. These organizations shouldn't need permission to innovate or promises that some company won't enforce their broad and obvious patents. Instead, they need a system that lets them continue to innovate without having to worry about these sorts of legal issues or beg a company to give them a pass. They should be pointing out how much needless trouble this process put them through. Even though the end result may have worked out for them, this shouldn't be an issue that they had to face at all.


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    Geeb, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 1:37am

    Well, to be fair...

    ...the news story linked in the article makes it clear that it was a highly qualified welcome, from one or two fairly minor players (we're not talking FSF here) and it stopped short of an endorsement.

    But anyway. It goes on to say what Blackboard have patented, including this gem: "a central feature of Blackboard's software: the ability to grant different people, such as students and teachers, different access rights to online resources"

    Ye gods. They've invented user-based access control.

    Hands up anyone who can't think of five examples of prior art straight off the top of their head...

     

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    Cyden, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 4:19am

    Free Enterprise

    I believe the "system" you are espousing is known throughout the rest of the world as Socialism. Give me America's good old free enterprise, capitalist system any time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 5:27am

    What about for-profit companies that fund development of free software or that simply base their product on it? For example a company selling support services.

    I'd say that the patent is still a direct threat to free software despite the patent pledge because it will
    1. Restrict commercial entities from contributing software,
    2. Limit adoption by restricting the ability to provide support services for free software.
    Makes the pledge worthless in my opinion.

     

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    Dan, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 5:33am

    Free Enterprise means free competition and narrow

    It is paradoxical that people supporting free enterprise should be advocating strong patents at the same time. With strong patents, we have severely restricted competition. What we should be advocating instead is narrow patents to promote free competition and free enterprise.

     

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    Ronnieb, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 6:04am

    Well, to be fair

    One other thing to consider. By filing a 'business methods patent, many 'obvious' pieces of 'prior art', put together in a novel way, constitutes a patentable invention. So, while on the face of it, it looks 'obvious', the way the invention was put together, because nobody else put them together in that particlular way, makes it unique and therefore patentable. So says my patent counsel anyway.

     

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      Arghblarg, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 8:31am

      Re: Well, to be fair

      Ronnieb: Your patent counsel is part of the problem, if he thinks that way. The whole problem with 'business method' patents is that it patents a whole way of doing business. Instant monopoly on not just a product, but possibly an entire *class* of products. Patents aren't supposed to restrict the market, they're supposed to encourage innovation.

       

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    fuzzmanmatt, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 8:24am

    If Blackboard wasn't such a pile of crap piece of software to work with I might feel differently about the situation, but why is it that the only people who make a fuss about other people using "their" tech are the people who make crap tech?

     

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    Brad Eleven, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 9:06am

    Uncomfortably numb

    This flavor of crap has become tasteless to me now. Ho, hum. Another bogus patent, thinks I.

    Once in a while, I'm reminded of a time when patents are sorely needed. From Eli Whitney to George Eby, the truly groundbreaking inventions warrant protection for the inventors, IMHO. Eby had to sue to get the royalties he deserved. His patent had spurred the marketer to set aside monies for him in advance.

    Given frivolous patents and strong-arm techniques from the MPAA & RIAA, I don't pay attention to that noise any more. I guess that cranking up a noise machine and keeping it going produces a return on the investment. I suppose its impact is on the people who make the noise, e.g., they probably go deaf.

     

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    Not Awake Yet, Feb 5th, 2007 @ 9:49am

    Open Source E-Learning

    This semester my school recently moved over to an open source e-learning system. Wow, it's leaps and bounds better than BlackBoards expensive piece of crap.

     

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