Patent Office Realizes Broad Patent On E-Learning Might Need A Second Look

from the gee,-you-think? dept

Last year, there was a lot of talk when Blackboard Inc. started threatening other organizations involved in e-learning excessively broad and extremely obvious patent on the concept of e-learning. In November, a group put forth a formal challenge to the patent, and it appears that the Patent Office has finally realized that it deserves a second look. They've agreed to review the patent in question. Of course, as with other such reviews, it will likely take quite some time, as it involves a very lengthy process including appeals. In the meantime, however, the patent itself (from a legal standpoint) is considered valid, and any lawsuits Blackboard is involved in continue on the basis that the patent is completely valid. While it's nice that the Patent Office has actually agreed to review the patent, it highlights one of the problems with the current system, where the Patent Office uses a "when in doubt, approve" standard. Whoever holds that patent can then cause all sorts of problems until the USPTO finally gets around to reviewing it. It slows down all sorts of innovation in that time, assuming the patent is eventually found invalid. This is the exactly opposite to how the patent system is supposed to work. It's supposed to be encouraging innovation, not slowing it down through its own mistakes.

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  1. icon
    boomhauer (profile), 28 Jan 2007 @ 12:29am

    Also as an inventor...

    From my personal experience as an inventor and holder of several patents, I have to say Mike is correct on this topic. Some of the patents I have were simply filed just because "every one else is doing it" and really should never have been granted. In the niche industry Im in, there are a couple large companies who stockpile IP and actively shut down smaller businesses or force extremely burdensome licensing terms for IP they "own" that is so ridiculously obvious and simple, its almost the equiv of claiming to own oxygen.. and which whould never hold up under a real legal challenge. But they do this because they can.. and they have the legal funds to put any challengers out of business.

    So, not speaking hypothetically but out of personal experience, I can say the patent system is being used for exactly the opposite of its original intent. Instead of offering the small inventor a chance at turning an invention into a successful venture, the innefficiencies of the system have turned it into a tool for the larger organizations to use for killing off smaller inventors/companies.

    I would gladly trade in my patent collection, including the ones I caondier valueable, for a revised patent system that would reject the garbage that is allowed to issue today. I am nearly (but not quite) ready to say we'd be better off without a patent system at all.

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