Friday, February 29, 2008

That Blackboard decision again

Martin is as close as I've seen him to angry in his writing about the jury deciding in favour of Blackboard.


It strikes me there are three ways to be the market leader in an industry:

i) Have such cool products it doesn't matter how you behave (cf. Apple)

ii) Have an average product and bully everyone else out of the market so the customer has no choice (cf. Microsoft)

iii) Work with your customers to develop your product and get good will (cf. nearly every other tech company).

I don't have an MBA, but it strikes me that option i) is damn hard to pull off and happens to only one or two products in a decade. Option ii) is so old school, industrial type thinking that even Microsoft are shying away from it now. This is particularly true in a sector like education. Unlike, washing machines say, people really care about education. You can't bully them, treat them with contempt and work against the community and expect to have the market. People are too smart and will work around you. Which leaves option iii) as your only sensible option. And the BB patent is about as far as you can get from this as is imaginable.

So when universities find ways to deliver, support, facilitate learning online (for instance using a set of third party apps held together by eduglu), are BB going to sue them? And will they sue every application in the pack? Google Calendar when used in a loosely coupled learning suite is now in infringement of copyright?

You have to say that when it comes to misunderstanding your market, the BB patent will be a classic case study. Until we have the opportunity to look back and laugh however, we should make sure we do everything to boycott them."

Whilst I share Martin's sentments, I don't agree that you can't bully and treat educational institutions with contempt and still expect to have a market. Blackboard and many other systems suppliers are locked into educational and other institutions; and in universities, as elsewhere, the people and processes charged with making decisions about such things are not always the most rational in the world. In addition, given the avoid-litigation-at-all-costs mentality in the education sector generally, Blackboard's court win, I fear, could do more long term damage than I would like to see.

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