E-learning software provider Blackboard made the news -- and raised open source hackles -- a year ago when it secured a U.S. patent for "Internet-based educational support and methods." The Software Freedom Law Center immediately set about to convince Blackboard not to assert its patent against open source e-learning projects such as ATutor and Moodle.
Though the company insisted it had no intention of "going after" open source, no formal agreement resulted. Next, the SFLC sought help directly from the U.S. Patent Office, where SFLC attorneys urged officials to revoke the patent as invalid. Those efforts also seemed to have failed initially.
Now, however, there is good news for open source e-learning: Blackboard has finally formalized its decision not to assert the patent against them. According to eSchool News Online, the company issued what it is calling "a legally binding promise" not to sue universities or certain open source entities that use "homegrown" e-learning software. As the company's chief legal officer told ITBusiness.ca recently, the agreement aligns with Blackboard's values: "collaboration, openness and sharing."
Obviously, commercial entities that infringe the patent have no such promise upon which to rely. Blackboard's lawsuit against Canadian rival Desire2Learn is still in process. On the other hand, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided to re-examine the patent a few weeks ago. Blackboard itself may be at risk before the dust settles.