Blackboard Patent and Prior Art*/

I am officially still on holidays until next Tuesday but made the mistake of checking my email (I have managed to abstain from my bloglines account though!) and through a mailing list I subscribe to saw a post on the nastiness that is Blackboard’s patent application. If you can beat them, sue them, eh?

The ensuing effort to create a history of LMS/VLEs through Wikipedia is great and to be applauded. When I saw the posts about Blackboard’s patent I immediately thought of our Edutools site, actually its predecessor, Landonline, developed by my colleague Dr. Bruce Landon and hosted by my former employers, the now defunct Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology (C2T2).

Bruce originally created that site in 1996 (pre-Blackboard, in fact the early version was pre-WebCT as well.) I checked the Internet Archives, and while they don’t have a copy from 1996, they do have ones from 1997, 1998 and 1999. If you have a look at the copies on the Wayback machine. The copies on the Wayback machine aren’t pretty (lots of broken images) but you can see, for instance in this comparison from 1998, that Blackboard (here called Courseinfo) and WebCT show up in this apples to apples comparison with 4 other systems at the time.

It’s not like Landonline/Edutools is the only example you can point to that was comparing Blackboard and WebCT to competing offerings – Marshall University’s Center for Instructional Technology’s comparison of LMS/CMS tools from 1999 is still available online, as is Virginia Tech’s from 1998. What I do think is significant, however, is that at Edutools we can actually show a continuous development of the feature set that we use to compare these products from 1996 until our current one – certainly with changes and modifications over time, but it has been a relatively consistent point of comparison for almost 10 years now.

I am not a lwayer and don’t play one on TV, and I am sure there is enough weasily language included in the patent that Blackboard will have some success using it to bludgeon competitors and customers alike. But if the creation of this behemoth didn’t light a fire under your ass to do something different, maybe consider this a second opportunity to change course. – SWL