Run me through the Blackboard business model again

So Blackboard has won the initial ruling in Texas, with Desire2Learn ordered to pay $3.1 million compensation. Obviously a stupid and dangerous ruling, but as the excellent Michael Feldstein points out, who’s made money out of it anyway?

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.

3 Comments

  1. You fail to recognize that a large part of the problem lies within academia itself. Bureaucratic purchasing processes, nickel-and-diming vendors, and the absence of agreement among decision making committees regarding “what works best” has created an environment in which companies like Bb are forced to do everything they can to protect market share. The education market does not reward innovation – it rewards the companies with the budget and persistence to push through the red-tape to get a sale. Once entrenched there’s no motivation to innovate or treat customers well because all the complaining doesn’t change the one constant – it’ll take 100 committee meetings and 5 years for a school to conclude that it’s just too expensive to leave Bb. Purchasing processes at schools do more to stifle innovation than Bb’s over-reaching patent. Just some thoughts from someone in the industry.

  2. There are open source alternatives for Microsoft programs. Open Office can certainly produce the same documents you can make with Word. Why does Microsoft Word still dominate? Because most of the world wants a universal product. There are rewards with that thinking and of course disadvantages. Blackboard is almost as ingrained in Higher Ed as Word is ingrained in every business. The rank and file faculty members do not care what LMS they use as long as it works and as long as it does not change constantly.

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