Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jury decide in favour of Blackboard

At the end of last week a federal jury awarded Blackboard $3.1 million in damages against competitor Desire2Learn for patent infringement. This is a bit of a surprise since two federal judges gave preliminary rulings in August 2007 invalidating most of Blackboard's patent.

Desire2Learn has posted a copy of the judge's instructions to the jury. Well worth a read.

Michael Feldstein, one of the bloggers following the case most closely, has posted an eye-witness account of the trial by Jim Farmer of Georgetown University. Also well worth reading in full.

From the Chronicle:

"A federal jury in Texas awarded Blackboard Inc. $3.1-million on Friday, saying that a smaller Canadian competitor, Desire2Learn Inc., had infringed its patent for a system of delivering course materials online. The jury also found that Desire2Learn had not shown clear and convincing evidence that Blackboard's patent was invalid.

Blackboard's general counsel, Matthew Small, said the verdict validated the company's assertion, which has been challenged by many higher-education technology experts, that its system was unique when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Blackboard the patent in 2006. The office agreed last year to take another look at the patent after Desire2Learn and others challenged its validity. That review is still pending.

"They won this round, but the battle is not over by any stretch of the imagination," John Baker, president and chief executive of Desire2Learn, said in an interview Friday. "We'll continue to fight and hopefully remove from the educational community this very dark cloud."

The company is considering several options, including appealing the verdict, continuing to challenge the patent at the federal level, and modifying its software so it does not infringe Blackboard's patent.

Mr. Baker said he was "shocked" when the jury announced its decision after deliberating for nine hours over two days in the U.S. District Court in Lufkin. The trial lasted two weeks...
Eben Moglen is founding director and chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, an advocacy group for open-source software that has challenged Blackboard's patent. Mr. Moglen, who is also a professor of law at Columbia University, said there is plenty of evidence, presented both in the trial, and to the federal patent office, of similar technology that existed before Blackboard's patent was issued. He added that his group plans to continue fighting to invalidate Blackboard's patent...

Peter A. Schilling, director of information technology at Amherst College, said colleges may decide it's too risky to use any course-management system other than Blackboard's. The patent, he said, is so broadly written that professors may be afraid to even use wikis or blogs."

No comments: