Friday, March 20, 2009

You can have a patent on Internet-based education?!

Wow.  I'm researching courseware that we could potentially deploy in India as part of this project for the Rai Foundation trying to develop a distance learning program for villages.  I'm amazed at some of the things you can have a patent on that can be enforced. Apparently, Blackboard has patent on delivering Internet-based education and support. Talk about a valuable patent.  

From the Times of India (2006): 

US-based Blackboard, has been granted a patent for technology used to deliver Internet-based education and support.

The patent is already applicable in US, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Its sweep spans every little bit of online education including processes like how courses are offered and managed. The patent is now pending in other countries including India.

Signalling what it intends to do with the patent, on the day it was awarded, Blackboard sued Canadian company Desire2Learn, its main competitor in the market that caters to American students.
I wonder how much longer a patent like this is good for and how broad it is.  The Times seemed to think Indian companies would get around it.
Indian companies feel the patent can cover only specific systems and there are many avenues to deliver e-learning without infringing on Blackboard's patents. Since Blackboard's patent is specific to its methods, it won't affect popular tests like GRE and GMAT, they say.
In terms of length, 17 years is the life of a patent.  Courseware has been around for at least 12 years now.  I was a summer intern for Ling Chai's Bain funded Jenzabar in 1999 (LOL, the revenue model was affiliate sales of textbooks).  That company amazingly is still around.  


Anonymous said...

You mighth want to look online, as that patent has been through a lot of attacks.

The educational commmunity was not exactly happy about the patent.

Additionally, Blackboard sued Desire2Learn (another LMS provider). (The patent is currently under review, and the lawsuit is being appealed)

Ted Chan said...

Thanks for the comment, I read a bit more and came up with this post.

I couldn't find more recent events so I'm curious what the status is at if anyone runs into anything. Web is pretty slow in India where I am.

jeff said...

Hi Ted, there has been a great deal of info and dialog posted online about the Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn patent infringement lawsuit.

Here are a few places to start.

Desire2Learn's patent blog

Michael Feldstein's collection of posts related to the patent lawsuit

Also, you might find interesting the history of virtual learning environments outlined at Wikipedia. Obviously, Blackboard was not the first inventor of such systems.