I've already said it on this Digg post: digg - Blackboard wins patent for LMS/e-Learning technology Learning Management System vendor Blackboard Inc has been granted a patent for ...well, just about anything resembling an online learning system or student-focused groupware solution. Coupled with Bb's acquisition of WebCT in 2005, this fuels concerns over Bb's dominance of the education market. (Digg users feel free to go Digg it :)).

Blackboard's press release says the patent is for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods ...which is broad language, to say the least. The US patent (6,988,138) is, if anything, even worse: A system and methods for implementing education online by providing institutions with the means for allowing the creation of courses to be taken by students online, the courses including assignments, announcements, course materials, chat and whiteboard facilities, and the like, all of which are available to the students over a network such as the Internet.

Just in case there were any doubts as to what they might do with the patent, Blackboard has already launched a lawsuit against a competitor (Desire2Learn).

Keep in mind Blackboard already acquired its biggest commercial competitor, WebCT. In addition to suing their remaining competitors, there's some speculation that the new patent might be used to attack open source products like Atutor, Moodle and Sakai.

This is a major concern for accessibility and web standards in the higher education sector, since Blackboard (v6) doesn't validate and isn't accessible. There were some noises that the WebCT merger would result in an all-new product which does meet industry standards, but people in the know don't seem confident that it's going to happen any time soon.

Anyway, there are already some coordinated efforts to collate information about prior art (and there's a lot of it). Stephen Downes has posted a raft of links to the various reactions to news of the patent. A series of tubes has already turned up :)

As with most overly-broad patents, I guess we'll wait and see what happens.