Blackboard patent – a reply to David Jakes (and jeff utecht)

I was wandering through blackboard stuff and came across this post from David Jakes. In it he declares that he uses blackboard, he likes it and that they also take him out to nice dinners (his disclosure, which i appreciate) There’s a line of argument in it (and particularly in the first comment by mr. utecht) that i don’t know enough about to counter. It seems to go like this

Blackboard has a right to do this. And if they don’t have the right trying to get away with it anyway is what being american is all about.

  • Do I like what blackboard is doing? No. Can they? Yes. And all you can say is God Bless America. You might disagree with me but it’s things like this that make America great.(from comment one)

It was my understanding that, in America, making a monopoly was illegal(whether or not blackboard is doing this, David and Jeff seem to be acknowledging that blackboard is ‘cornering the market on elearning). There is a great deal of debate going on as to whether people being in a corporation gives them a right to stop being ‘ethical’, that somehow the making of money cancels out all other considerations – because business is all about making money. In the final analysis, I think i’d prefer the world if being ethical was something we did all the time, but as i can’t seem to even do that everyday in my own life, perhaps its unrealistic for me to expect corporations to do so.
In the rest of his post Mr. Jakes discusses other patents awarded in history, and that some of those patents were educational. He also mentions that other, more important things are going on in the world, and suggests that perhaps we should be focusing on them instead of on the blackboard patent.
lets walk back through the argument…

  • 1849, to find out that a future president who invented a mechanism for floating a ship through shallow water received a patent for that design. That man was Abraham Lincoln.
  • A simple search of the U.S. Patent Office database returns 11,747 patents that include the word “education.” Where are all the blog posts screaming hatred and damnation at these patent holders? Or is it just a Blackboard thing?

1. Are ‘software patents’ evil? which is the discussion that many people are having. A software patent is not like Lincoln’s water thingy or an airplane. And a patent is not like a copyright. Their product was already copyrighted. If you’d like a comparison… its more like Wells patenting the novel because he was writing science fiction. Or, more to the point, if Microsoft patented ‘the operating system’ and started suing mac and linux. One patent, or 11000 patents being awarded, does not make 11001 a good patent.

  • If it was me, I’d design some peace graphics for Israel and Lebanon, or make some graphics about how the oil companies (and all their patents!) are making obscene profits by ripping us all off by charging $3.50 a gallon for their product. I might think of all the servicemen and women the U.S. has lost in Iraq, and design some graphics for them. Or I might design some graphics about the terrorists who want to blow more planes up. You know, maybe some graphics about something really important….

2. I also find it confusing how because the American government went to Iraq, I somehow shouldn’t spend my time working on education issues. Should the whole world now only focus on American foreign policy?

3. No one is debating that the patent office dropped the ball on this. And not just the one in America. That’s why were collecting prior art.

  • I’ll even admit to being pretty upset after we received a significant cost increase for the product and then at their national conference in Phoenix in 2004, watching them load up motor coaches outside the client party downtown (which was also over the top) and truck off their 28-33 year old staff to a private closed party while over a 100 people stared in disbelief…not good business

4. I too think blackboard is in this for the money. As you say, they increased your fees in 2004. And that’s what they did when they had competition. Ask yourself what they will do if they have NO competition. How many programs will you have to cut in your district to keep your blackboard licence after it quadruples again? This is the problem.

  • OK, take a trip back in time with me to look at a little history. Let’s consider how outraged bloggers would have been in ____ …. (had blogging existed, of course…) . Fill in the blank with the date below:

5. And the american government broke up standard oil as well… for antitrust (see microsoft et al.)

6. Finally, as you are defending your product, many people are defending the one that they like… that has been good for their students and teachers. For many of us, these are projects that we’ve worked on – significantly for some, peripherally for others. We are defending a product we love and you are defending a product you pay for. We would also defend your right to use whatever product you want. We are trying to do the same for ourselves.

That being said, I’d love to discuss it with you further ( Sunday night 9pm)

ps. i hope i’m wrong about the quadrupal thing… but it does concern me… as you say they are in it for a buck but with this patent, (and more importantly the next one (see michael feldstein)) there’s nothing to stop them.

Now, as for people ‘making fun of you in their posts’ I hope they don’t actually do that. But i would like to address one more issue. The subtitle of your blog is “Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward…” I too would like this world. This patent does not support anything that you clearly wish to be representative of. Not universality, not connectivity, not creativity or innovation. Patents kill those things… particularly software patents.

(all bulleted items from

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

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