Gas Pedals and eLearning

Yesterday the Supreme Court brought to life the “obviousness test” in ruling that Teleflex’s gas pedal combined with a sensor was an obvious invention for a “person having ordinary skill in the art”. What does that have to do with eLearning? A whole lot if you are Desire2Learn, or use an LMS. Desire2Learn was sued by Blackboard right after Blackboard was awarded their broad (and obvious) LMS patent last year. (Patent Office info)

This ruling on a gas pedal could hopefully kill all of Blackboard’s patent, or at least much of it. To anyone in the eLearning and education community, the Blackboard patent is not just obvious, it’s absurd. I’ve read the patent, and found nothing original or special about it. Being a developer with many years of experience (even at the time the patent was filed) I definitely qualify as a “person having ordinary skill in the art”. I had even built my own LMS to support an online course around the same time Blackboard filed their patent. Doesn’t that make the idea of an LMS obvious? To me it does. I’m not the only one, check out the History of virtual learning environments on Wikipedia. It chronicles the development of LMS type systems dating back to 1728. More importantly, it includes dozens of computer based systems developed decades before Blackboard filed their patent.

I fully support a company’s right to make money off their original and innovative ideas. In the case of Blackboard, I laughed when I heard they got a patent for something so blantantly obvious. Then I realized the implications, and got really angry. I was mad that they thought they could patent something so obvious and critical to the training and education universe, and even more angry that the patent office actually granted the patent. What a waste of tax dollars, and now Click2Learn is wasting money defending the obvious.

I sincerely hope the Blackboard patent gets voided. In this day and age, an LMS is an essential tool, and no one company should own the idea of an LMS. It is a ubiquitous technology. I shouldn’t have to pay Blackboard because I want to track student progress in a course, whether using a pencil and paper or some electronic means.

Related links:

e-Literate – Supreme Court Strikes a Major Blow for Patent Reform
Ars Technica – Supreme Court ruling makes “obvious” patents harder to defend

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