An excellent framing of the debate around challenging Blackboard’s patent (local copies of the news announcement, patent re-examination request, and USPTO’s order for re-examination) which stifles educational software.
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2007 18:27:28 -0600
From: Nathan Owens
Subject: unethical practices by Blackboard
Dear CIO Kaufman,
A copy of this e-mail is being sent to the Provost.
I am writing to express my displeasure with UIUC’s support for Blackboard, the company from which UIUC purchases the software and services that run Illinois Compass.
As you may know, in 2006 Blackboard was granted a patent giving them exclusive rights over certain Internet-based educational support systems and methods. These methods include previously implemented and rather obvious procedures which allow students and teachers to communicate electronically. As such, Blackboard has little or no basis for holding their patent, and it is currently being challenged. Nevertheless, they have recently shown their willingness to defend that patent with a lawsuit against another educational company.
Few would disagree that student-teacher communication, regardless of the medium over which it is conducted, is a fundamental aspect of education. It therefore causes me some displeasure to know that by buying their products and services, UIUC has facilitated Blackboard’s financial capacity to proceed with an aggressive, antisocial, and ultimately destructive lawsuit. I strongly urge that both you and the University rethink your support for a company whose practices are so antithetical to the University’s mission.
PhD candidate in French Linguistics
Update 2007-02-05: The University’s CIO replied.