K-12 Tech Trends :: January 31, 2007



Education Software Patents: Blackboard and SFLC Weigh In

For years colleges and universities have been experimenting with and implementing course management systems (CMS)--whether they be commercial packages, open-source tools, or home-grown CMSes—and these systems have, in large part, become ingrained in the education process. In K-12, course management systems are not as prevalent. Issues of funding, pedagogy, and, of course, basic need have put CMS on the back burner for some time.

But K-12 is coming around, and you can now find CMSes integrated into hundreds of public and private institutions and distance-learning programs. The major commercial CMS developer, Blackboard Inc., even offers a CMS designed specifically for K-12 schools, which, according to the company, had been implemented in more than 400 districts and individual schools around the United States as of last summer. (We'll hopefully get updated figures a little later this month when Blackboard holds its regular earnings call.)

There is, however, a debate (and even a legal proceeding) happening right now that could impact CMSes in the future. That debate is over a patent that Blackboard has been granted on some specific technologies used in course management systems. The company is presently suing rival CMS developer Desire2Learn over infringement of that patent. And open-source developers, such as Sakai, Moodle, and ATutor, say they fear that the patent could impact their ability to develop viable CMSes and that, in fact, Blackboard's patent claims are invalid. (Blackboard maintains that its patent is not a threat to open-source developers.)

So these three open-source developers filed a request through an organization called the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to reexamine Blackboard's patent.

That request was granted last week.

Now the USPTO has the opportunity to look again at the validity of Blackboard's patent in light of evidence supplied by the SFLC that such technologies existed prior to Blackboard's filing for the patent. At the same time, Desire2Learn has filed its own request for a reexamination, and that request has been assigned to the same examiner in the USPTO who is handling the SFLC's request.

But this entire affair has raised questions not just about the validity of Blackboard's patent, but about software patents in general and the legitimacy of patents in the education software space in particular.

We had a chance to speak with representatives from Blackboard and the SFLC on the USPTO's recent decision. They gave us their perspective on the reexamination and also shared with us some of their views on software patents in general. What is the meaning of Blackboard's patent? What are the potential effects of such a patent on education software developers? What might the outcome of the USPTO's reexamination mean to those involved? Is the USPTO out of control on software patents?

You can find answers from Blackboard and SFLC representatives in our latest in depth report covering this ongoing legal and and public relations battle in the article below....

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News Briefs

Montgomery, Bay County Districts Sign with STI Assessment

Software Technology Inc. (STI) today announced that two school districts have signed up to use the company's STI Assessment system: Bay County School District in Panama City, FL and Montgomery Public Schools in Montgomery, AL....

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Alaska Implements Math Teacher Development Program

The state of Alaska has implemented a new math teacher professional development program in partnership with education developer Carnegie Learning. The program is designed for teachers who are not certified as "highly qualified" in math. Phase 1 launched last month and will continue through the end of the 2006/2007 school year....

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Spectrum K12, Tyler Partner for Student Data Solution

Spectrum K12 School Solutions and Tyler Technologies have entered into a partnership to offer a new real-time student data solution. Through a Web-based package, the companies' technologies will be integrated to provide tracking of grades, schedules, attendance, billing, service programs, discipline information, and other data....

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TeacherLine To Provide Professional Development for FDE

PBS TeacherLine is partnering with the Florida Department of Education's Bureau of Instruction and Innovation. The partnership will provide Florida's educators with professional development through the state's Master Digital Educators program....

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Grants & Awards

2007 Sylvia Charp Awards

T.H.E. Journal and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) are pleased to announce the 4th annual award program in honor of Dr. Sylvia Charp and her groundbreaking contributions and extended service to the education technology community....

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Products & Services

Blackboard, Thinkronize Partner on netTrekker

Education software publisher Blackboard is partnering with Thinkronize, the developer of the netTrekker d.i. search engine. Through the partnership, netTrekker search functionality will be available within Blackboard's learning management system. The announcement was made this week at the FETC convention in Florida....

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Discovery Expands Assessment Tools

Discovery Education, a unit of media company Discovery Communications, today announced Discovery Education ThinkLink Assessment, a new student assessment suite. This latest release from Discovery is the result of the company's April 2006 acquisition of ThinkLink Learning, an assessment service provider....

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Coming Up

  • FEB 5-9, 2007
    TCEA 2007
    Texas Computer Education Association
    Austin, Texas

  • JUNE 24-27, 2007
    NECC 2007
    28th-Annual National Educational Computing Conference
    Atlanta, GA

THE Journal Opportunities

Share Your Best Practices

T.H.E. Journal is currently looking for the following types of articles for future issues and for our eNewsletter, T.H.E. SmartClassroom:

  • School Perspectives - discuss a specific topic, trend, or concern about education technology.
  • Case Studies – have you implemented technology and learned a lot from the experience? If so, share your efforts about what worked -- and what didn't.

If you have a potential article, or questions about the above topics, please e-mail editorial@thejournal.com

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