Free Learning Technology Remains Free - Infamous BlackBoard Patent has been Rejected

Some time ago, BlackBoard submitted a patent proposal to the US Patent and Trademark Office. At 25th March this patent has been rejected with respect to all of BlackBoard's claims. It is important that the comments on the rejection identify that 36 out of the 44 claims were fully rejected as "unpatentable" per se. For the remaining eight claims, BlackBoard failed to provide evidence that their "invention" is not just a combination of old (read existing) elements. These claims are thus "unpatentable" by law.

I expected such results of the patent examination, because the original claim PN/6,988,138 wasn't really describing anything particularly new by June 1999. In fact, the patent reads more like a transition of an advertising into a legal text - and this information could have been taken from any published of LMS/LCMS systems at that time. Therefore, the rejection of this patent is good news for the learning technology community.

Although BlackBoard has now two months time to respond on the rejections, it will be difficult to provide the missing evidence of invention for the eight claims that appear to combine existing technology and practice. I expect that BlackBoard will not be able to provide evidence to any of these claim that they are not just a combination of old elements. Maybe, claim 31 has the best chances to be somewhat "unique" and "new" in the field of learning technology. However, the statement is a bit blurry.

 31. The system of claim 28 wherein selection of the staff information hyperlink
     provides a web page comprising data regarding the instructors of the associated course.

Maybe this claim can be improved to be an invention to the learning domain, but such function isn't new to groupware and CSCW. If we think further in legal terms, an LMS or LCMS is nothing else than a groupware, which is used for learning. Therefore, I don't think that BlackBoard will be able to keep up any of their claims.

The given rejection is good news because it shows clearly, that simply applying internet technologies to learning is nothing one can claim as an invention. Moreover, the use of the IMS architecture specification to underpin the rejection shows that the work in the field of standardisation has its value for the community and should be extended, where possible.

Another thing that is presented by the rejection is the relevance of scientific publications. It shows that it is necessary that architectural models are published in order to avoid "trivial" patents for technology in the learning domain.