The [Blackboard] patent, awarded to the Washington-based company in January but announced in July, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic-computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion: through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry.
Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard's ownership of the very idea of e-learning.
Blackboard - which recently became the dominant company in the field by acquiring rival WebCT Inc. - says critics misunderstand what the patent claims. But the company does say it must protect its $100 million investment in the technology. The day the patent was announced, Blackboard sued rival Desire2Learn Inc. for infringement and is seeking royalties.
"It just wouldn't be a level playing field if someone could come onto the scene tomorrow, copy everything that Blackboard and WebCT have done, and call it their own," Blackboard general counsel Matthew Small said.