Communities of Practice – Patented

I see that Jay Cross has been having a conversation about the term Community of Practice (CoP) and in response to Nick’s question, wrote:

>Why do you want to change the term ‘communities of practice’?

Nick, in Denver this October, quizzical faces peered at me when I used the term Communities of Practice. There were only thirty to forty people in my audience. I asked “How many of you are familiar with the term Community of Practice?” No one raised a hand.

I don’t buy your argument that ‘any really useful concept should be initially opaque’. Instead, a new concept should at least relate to its origins. Horseless carriage, wireless phone.

Writing ‘your wish to change the name: dynamic guild misconstrues what I meant. I wrote that “we didn’t find what we were looking for”. The best we could do was not good enough. I’m still searching.

CoP are too important to be stuck with a label that takes time to understand. Let’s not permit semantic conservatism to block progress. This is not the first time this has come up nor will it be the last. See “How about an Order of Slimehead?” at

Well, it may be that we’ll have to pay to use the term CoP anyway. From Dave Pollard, I’ve learned that one more ridiculous patent (#7127440) has been issued by the US Patent & Trademark Office:

A method is provided for establishing a community of practice including a plurality of users, one or more experts, and one or more community of practice managers. A need for a community of practice is identified. The roles and responsibilities of participants in the community of practice are identified. One or more goals are identified for the community of practice based on the identified need. A plurality of the participants in the community of practice collaborate to achieve the identified goals.

Inventors: Jeanblanc; Anne H. (Galva, IL), Coffey; James M. (Peoria, IL)
Assignee: Caterpillar Inc. (Peoria, IL)
Appl. No.: 09/995,822
Filed: November 29, 2001

I remember a sign that was posted in the Officers’ Mess in Wainwright, Alberta. It said, “Let not common sense become so rare that it is mistaken for genius”. Perhaps this sign should be shipped to the USPTO.

One Response to “Communities of Practice – Patented”

  1. Jay Cross

    Here’s a warning to any of you characters who think you can rip off my patents: I am taking out a patent on conversation. It occurs when two or more individuals exchange words audibly in a freeform fashion, generally one after the other.
    Note that Caterpillar’s patent is five years old.


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