So begins my weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, BBC International version, homepage version) which does not discuss the RIM-NTP patent suit but rather the recent patent lawsuit launched by Blackboard, a learning management system company, against Desire2Learn, a Canadian competitor. Both the patent and the lawsuit have generated enormous anger within the academic and open source software communities.
The open source software community has also reacted with alarm, since there are several ongoing open-source LMS projects that have gained increasing popularity in recent months. These projects, which include Moodle and Sakai, are freely available and therefore represent a significant competitive threat to the proprietary LMS vendors such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn. Noting that Desire2Learn was the first legal target, open source developers have wondered aloud whether they might be next.
Interestingly, open source and Internet tools are emerging as the first line of defence against the Blackboard patent and lawsuit. Angry educators have launched an online petition calling on Blackboard to drop the lawsuit and to agree to forego any future patent suits.
Several online collaborative work spaces known as wikis have also sprung up to pool knowledge about the history of online learning environments. That information could prove crucial in defending the case, since evidence that the patent is not original (known as prior art) can be used to counter its validity.