I’ve been watching the Blackboard patent debate with interest. Initially I felt it might be one of those things that people panic about, but doesn’t turn out to be the higher education apocalypse everyone predicted. While this may still turn out to be the case, it is undoubtedly serious. Michael Feldstein has blogged extensively about it and provides a good translation of the patent, which makes it even scarier. Some of these (e.g. An instructor can create and edit pages in a course space) seem so general as to be ludicrous, like patenting the concept of a wheel (and indeed being excessively general is one area where the patent may fail).
In terms of the succession model I have outlined elsewhere, I have argued that commercial VLEs have been, on the whole, good for e-learning. Because they match current classroom practice closely they have been easily adopted. Their presence has changed the nature of the environment however, and now many people are looking for more flexibility, and institutions feel they have gained sufficient knowledge to implement open source options. In short, they have been victims of their own success. I guess it was predictable then that a commercial organisation wasn’t just going to lie down and accept this. The patent is the equivalent of napalming the burgeoning plant succession and locking down the environment.