An historical explanation of Blackboard’s Legal Suit

There is much discussion about Blackboard’s recent suit against Desire2Learn for allegedly infringing on learning management system patents, such as Stephen Downes’ aggregated links and Dave Cormier’s commentary.

This post from Oligopoly Watch, not related to Blackboard, explains the nature of the beast and shows once again that corporatism is the enemy of a free and open society:

Reback recalls the time when Sun Microsystems was still small and IBM still utterly dominant in the computer business. IBM sued Sun for patent infringement, and Sun’s legal staff called for a meeting to iron things out. As Reback puts it, “Fourteen IBM lawyers and their assistants, all clad in the requisite dark blue suits, crowded into the largest conference room Sun had.” After hearing details of the alleged violations, outmanned, but of tech-savvy Sun lawyers, demolished the arguments of the IBM lawyers one by one.

At first, the IBM lawyers were silent. Then, recounts Reback, “the chief suit responded. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘maybe you don’t infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?'”

This kind of historical precendence shows that the patent system and corporations are the real problem, not any specific company. Given the chance, most corporations would act in the same way; on the advice of their lawyers of course.

One Response to “An historical explanation of Blackboard’s Legal Suit”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    What a splutteringly unjust anecdote. That’s just like a confrontation with the playground bully for whom “might makes right”.

    Part of me (the large, idealistic, why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along part) wants to dismiss it as apocryphal. But the older, sadder, wiser part of me realises that this is the way of the corporate world.

    I genuinely understand the desire to protect something you invented, but if a society in South America and a society in North Africa can both come up with the concept of pyramids, and if there are cave paintings in Spain that look remarkably like the cave paintings in South Africa, then surely we must accept that several people can come up with a similar idea without necessarily having stolen it from each other? In my own life, I have occasionally come up with some or other “brilliant” idea, only to find that it’s already been done.

    I can see how the idea of patents got started, but I’m very worried as to where it might end up.


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