The Year That Online Education Died

I’m getting this ominous feeling right about now. Dark clouds are gathering. Crazy things are happening. Is this a sign of the beginning of the end? How bad can this Blackboard patent get?

Campus Technology published as insightful article yesterday called “Desire2Learn CEO Makes Case Against Blackboard Patent, Court Ruling.” I’m glad to finally get to hear from Desire2Learn. I’ve heard plenty from Blackboard’s side of things.

At one level, though, the article is very frustrating. Frustrating because John Baker (CEO of Desire2Learn) has to do verbal back flips to make sure they don’t call down the wrath of Blackboard. Is this really what education needs – we now have to spend more time watching what we say and being careful not to infringe some patent then do any actual innovation. Reason number one that this patent might kill online education this year.

Something about this whole situation has always bothered me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. This article helped me figure it out. Blackboard went out of their way to justify their purchase of WebCT by pointing out that they had competition from Desire2Learn. And then they turn around and sue Desire2Learn to prevent them from competing. How can the U.S. government stand by and watch a company so blatantly do what it can to become a monopoly? “Blackboard’s representative at that trial said with a straight face that if [Desire2Learn] weren’t here, [Blackboard] would have the entire market.” Once again, another reason that online education is being choked to death this year.

This quote really got me: “Blackboard fought against us by using words that weren’t in the patent and weren’t in the claim construction.” They attempted to confuse the jury, use some smoke and mirrors, etc. A year ago, I might have given Blackboard the benefit of the doubt on this one. Not anymore. It’s sad enough that Blackboard even has to start a fight over this; now they prove that they can’t even hold a clean fight. (The public statements made by Blackboard’s CEO are a prime example of trying to confuse people with unnecessary words, so I have little problem believing that they would used the same tactic in the trial.)

The end of the article gives a good summary of what this fight means for online education. Pretty chilling, indeed.

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