The Blackboard Patent Claims in Plain English

Here are my plain English interpretations of the 44 Blackboard patent claims. From what I can tell, the following Learning Management Systems have most or all of the features listed in the claims and therefore may infringe on the patent:

  • Bazaar
  • Desire2Learn
  • dotLRN
  • eCollege AU+
  • IBM Workplace Collaborate Learning
  • Moodle
  • Saba Learning Suite
  • Sakai
  • SumTotal Enterprise Suite
  • WebCT

I am certain that this is a non-exhaustive list (to say the least).

What we need to do is find either existing LMS’s that were publicly known or articles that were published describing systems (real or hypothetical) with most or (preferably) all of the features in 1999. That would be a strong case for prior art. Showing that each of the features listed in the claims existed separately in products isn’t sufficient; we need to show that that a system with these features was either already in existence or close enough to be obvious at the time.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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13 Responses to The Blackboard Patent Claims in Plain English

  1. “Saba’s story begins in 1997 when Saba delivered the industry’s first Learning Management System (LMS).” –

    The Moodle community has created a wiki listing the history of LMS development and there is also but not sure whether this still addresses the apples with apples requirement.

  2. ted morris says:

    Serf ( also started in 1997.

  3. Scott Wilson says:

    I wonder if perhaps the HyperCard course management system created by Oleg Liber and Bill Olivier in the late 1980’s would constitute the “first VLE”?

    Btw, one simple question – does infringement of the patent require the infringement of all, one, or a significant number of the claims? I can’t believe that BB can sue someone for just creating a system using a username and password (claim 24) for example, so I assume there is some majority or totality rule?

  4. All, if you haven’t already done so, please post this info to the Wikipedia page, along with any references you may have.

    Scott, I’m still trying to find out the answer to your question about exactly what constitutes infringement. It may be one of those things that a judge or jury has to decide. My best information so far is that “a signficant number of the claims” is probably the best characterization.

  5. Alan says:

    Perhaps Blackboard will sue WebCT for infringement and will self-implode.

    The witch is burning, Dorothy!

  6. jen says:

    just happened to be looking at gopher on the well this morning and found some details re: the PLATO system which was designed for computer based education.

    starting in the early 60s and running til the mid 80s (I believe), it wasn’t web-based but has some of the same features (chat, message board type stuff).

    might be a good system to point to.


  7. Here is a September 1999 product overview for the Fretwell Downing LE (LE stands for Learning Environment):

    LE, with all tutor and learner interaction via web browser, at that time claimed to support:

    * planning and initiating a student’s learning programme;
    * the learning process;
    * tracking and tutor support;
    * group working;
    * tailoring to the institution;
    * open integration for incorporation of materials from many sources.

    I have included mention of this in the Wikipedia “history” page, and there are also pointers from there to some of the (mainly EU) funded projects in 1996-1998 that contributed to the development of the LE.

  8. Scott Leslie says:

    Michael, based on comments from Blackboard and elsewhere, my take is that it is the ‘portal’ level in the CMS (claims 1, 25, 26, 27 and 28) that they are trying to hang their claims on, i.e. multiple roles in a single system, and aggregation of all of a user’s courses and related activities onto a single navigable page upon login.

    Lots of the discussion about prior art to date has missed this and instead focused on the more ludicrous claims about patenting a system with a discussion board, file exchange, etc. My recollection of many of the pre-1999 products was that the lack of multiple roles and aggregated pages was in fact an issue, especially for bigger schools, and was what motivated many of the vendors to address this all around the same time. This is not to give creedance to Blackboard’s claims or validate their reprehensible tactics, just to say that, IMO, this is the specific set of claims that needs to be displaced.

    I am having no luck yet digging up material on Prometheus but I think you are right about it being one good avenue to follow, and the commercial LMS have also got to be a good one as they were typically further ahead of the higher ed CMS on some of these features (also other products that offered such portal-like functionality not specifically for online education should be fruitful). Cheers, Scott

  9. Nicenet had most of the features claimed in the patent (absent grades and synchronous communications) in 1997.

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