Blackboard Sues D2L over LMS Patent

Well I guess the rumours are true. Not only did Blackboard receive a comprehensive patent (US and other countries) on LMS technology, but they have filed a suit against Canadian company Desire2Learn – their main competitor in the academic market. The Inquirer has posted a PDF of the suit, filed on 26 July 2006, which states:

“… including but not limited to all D2L products based on the D2L learning system or platform, such as the D2L eLearning Technology Suite, which includes the D2L eLearning Environment, Learning Repository and Live Room, and all services supporting these D2L products, such as hosting services, training services, help desk support services, implementation and customization professional services, and content services.”

Personally, I don’t really care if one corporation sues another, as that seems to be in their nature. I’ve also noted in my last post that the course online model may have reached the end of its natural life anyway. However, there is still cause for concern. If Blackboard wins the suit, then some open source communities, such as Moodle, may be next in line.

It will depend on how generous the courts are in determining the extent of Blackboard’s patent. Blackboard’s claim is extensive, comprising 44 claims with the US Patent Office:

1. A course-based system for providing to an educational community of users access to a plurality of online courses, comprising: a) a plurality of user computers, with each user computer being associated with a user of the system and with each user being capable of having predefined characteristics indicative of multiple predetermined roles in the system, each role providing a level of access to a plurality of data files associated with a particular course and a level of control over the data files associated with the course with the multiple predetermined user roles comprising at least two user’s predetermined roles selected from the group consisting of a student role in one or more course associated with a student user, an instructor role in one or more courses associated with an instructor user and an administrator role associated with an administrator user, and b) a server computer in communication with each of the user computers over a network, the server computer comprising: means for storing a plurality of data files associated with a course, means for assigning a level of access to and control of each data file based on a user of the system’s predetermined role in a course; means for determining whether access to a data file associated with the course is authorized; means for allowing access to and control of the data file associated with the course if authorization is granted based on the access level of the user of the system.

2. The system of claim 1 wherein the instructor user is provided with an access level to enable the creation and editing of a plurality of files associated with a course.

3. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise an announcement file.

4. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise a course information file.

5. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise a staff information file posted to all registered in the course.

6. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise a course document file posted to all registered in the course.

7. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise an assignments file posted to all registered in the course.

8. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise a dropbox file.

9. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise an asynchronous communication file.

10. The system of claim 2 wherein the course files comprise a synchronous communication file.

11. The system of claim 2 wherein the student user is provided with an access level to enable reading of a plurality of files associated with a course.

12. The system of claim 11 wherein the student user is provided with an access level to enable modification of a subset of the plurality of files associated with a course.

13. The system of claim 11 wherein the user is provided with an access level to enable creation of a student file associated with a file for which the student user is able to read.

14. The system of claim 13 in which the file that the student is able to read is an assessment file created by the instructor user, and the student file created by the student user is a response to the assessment file.

15. The system of claim 14 wherein the assessment file comprises a plurality of examination questions selected by the instructor user to assess the ability of the student user.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein the examination questions are selected by the instructor user from a predetermined pool of available examination questions.

17. The system of claim 15 wherein the examination questions are created by the instructor user substantially at the time of the creation of the assessment file.

18. The system of claim 15 wherein the student file is reviewed by the instructor user and assigned a grade.

19. The system of claim 18 wherein the grade is made available to the student user.

20. The system of claim 18 wherein the instructor user collates a plurality of grades obtained from reviewing a plurality of student files, and wherein the collated grades are made available to all student users associated with the course.

21. The system of claim 13 in which the file that the student is able to read is an assignment file created by the instructor user, and the student file created by the student user is a response to the assignment file.

22. The system of claim 8 wherein the dropbox file comprises a plurality of files transferred to the server computer from one or more student users associated with the course.

23. The system of claim 22 wherein the instructor user is provided with access to the files in the dropbox file, whereby the instructor user may download, edit and upload the files in the dropbox.

24. The system of claim 1 wherein a user is required to enter a login sequence into a user computer in order to be provided with access to course files associated with that user.

25. The system of claim 24 wherein the user is provided with access to all courses with which the user is associated after entry of the logon sequence.

26. The system of claim 25 wherein the user is provided with a web page comprising a plurality of course hyperlinks, each of said course hyperlinks associated with each course that the user has enrolled in.

27. The system of claim 26 wherein selection of a course hyperlink will provide the user with a web page associated with the selected course, the web page comprising a plurality of content hyperlinks to various content areas associated with the course.

28. The system of claim 27 wherein said content hyperlinks comprise an announcement area hyperlink, a course information hyperlink, a staff information hyperlink, a course documents hyperlink, an assignments hyperlink, a communications hyperlink, and a student tools hyperlink.

29. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the announcement area hyperlink provides a web page comprising a group of course announcements.

30. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the course information hyperlink provides a web page comprising information regarding the associated course.

31. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the staff information hyperlink provides a web page comprising data regarding the instructors of the associated course.

32. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the course documents hyperlink provides a web page comprising a listing of documents associated with the course.

33. The system of claim 32 wherein the listing of course documents comprise active hyperlinks to the documents.

34. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the assignments hyperlink provides a web page comprising a group of course assignments.

35. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the communications hyperlink provides a web page comprising hyperlinks to a group of communication tools comprising an asynchronous communication tool and a synchronous communication tool.

36. An method for providing online education method for a community of users in a network based system comprising the steps of: a. establishing that each user is capable of having redefined characteristics indicative of multiple predetermined roles in the system and each role providing a level of access to and control of a plurality of course files; b. establishing a course to be offered online, comprising i. generating a set of course files for use with teaching a course; ii. transferring the course files to a server computer for storage; and iii. allowing access to and control of the course files according to the established roles for the users according to step (a); c. providing a predetermined level of access and control over the network to the course files to users with an established role as a student user enrolled in the course; and d. providing a predetermined level of access and control over the network to the course files to users with an established role other than a student user enrolled in the course.

37. The method of claim 36 wherein at least one of the course files comprises a course assignment, further comprising the steps of: e) the student user creating a student file in response to the course assignment; and f) the student user transferring the student file to the server computer.

38. The method of claim 37 further comprising the steps of: g) the instructor user accessing the student file from the server computer; h) the instructor user reviewing the student file to determine compliance with the course assignment; and i) the instructor user assigning a grade to the student file as a function of the determination of compliance with the course assignment.

39. The method of claim 38 further comprising the step of the instructor user posting the grade to a file on the server computer accessible only to the student user with which the grade is associated.

40. The method of claim 38 further comprising the steps of the instructor repeating the steps (g), (h), and (i) for a plurality of student users that are enrolled in the course.

41. The method of claim 40 further comprising the step of the instructor user performing a statistical analysis on the grades assigned to the plurality of student users.

42. The method of claim 41 further comprising the step of making results of the statistical analysis available to the student users enrolled in the course.

43. The method of claim 36 further comprising the step of providing an asynchronous communication tool accessible to student users enrolled in the course for enabling asynchronous communication amongst the student users.

44. The method of claim 36 further comprising the step of providing a synchronous communication tool accessible to student users enrolled in the course for enabling synchronous communication amongst the student users.

Sorry about the long blockquote, but I think that it’s important to consider that these kinds of functions can be found not just in LMS but also LCMS and even some non-traditional online learning systems. Is there an online learning system, proprietary or open source, that does not include ANY of these functions?

Update: On reviewing these 44 items, I would say that Elgg Learning Landscape does not use any of these. So, I guess that makes your decision easy. Choose Elgg if you want a lawsuit-free learning system 😉

21 Responses to “Blackboard Sues D2L over LMS Patent”

  1. Chris Hambly

    Blackboard, you really do suck for trying this one on. Us educators have been using technology like this to teach for almost a decade! Wake up you blithering idiots, your product is nothng new, in fact it sucks on many levels.

    Reply
  2. Mike @ Montreal

    Sounds a little like this parody from several years ago:

    Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/29130

    I don’t know much about patents, specifically for software, but I’m surprised that they were granted one on such generic terms. I mean, really: “the user is provided with access to all courses with which the user is associated after entry of the logon sequence.” ???

    I wonder how long this has been cooking, and how intertwined it is with their acquisition of WebCT, who certainly had some prior art out there as well. Also, is the point of a patent infringement case that someone is using their techniques AT ALL, or specifically to make money? Then D2L would be at risk, but not Sakai, Moodle, or any homegrown system.

    Reply
  3. Bryan Ledford

    The real problem here is that the USPTO isn’t doing their job. Overwhelming incomptence.

    Reply
  4. Alfred Essa

    I am not sure where Jarche gets the notion that Elgg Learning Landscape is “not affected by the current Blackboard LMS patent suit.” As I noted in a recent posting, “Blackboard’s “invention” describes a generic learning system and a corresponding set of methods. The “44 claims” cover any system which supports students interacting with instructors in an online course setting. Interaction simply means the manipulation (read, write) and exchange (asynchronous, synchronous) of data files. It’s that simple. It’s also frighteningly comprehensive because it can be interpreted to cover not only learning management systems but standalone tools such as blogs, wikis and online chat when used in the context of a course. The patent could also be interpreted by the courts to cover any other elements (e.g. e-commerce engine, card systems, ERP connectors) that integrate with the basic system.”

    Please explain why you think Elgg is not covered.

    Reply

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