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

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Geeb says:

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…

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Ronnieb says:

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.

Arghblarg says:

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.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

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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