Blackboard sues software company over patent infringement

Blackboard, the company that developed GW’s online academic portal, is suing another software company for patent infringement.

Blackboard filed the lawsuit against Desire2Learn in July for selling a similar online service to Texas universities. The Ontario-based Desire2Learn filed a rebuttal to Blackboard’s complaint last month, stating that Blackboard’s patent is too broad to be enforced.

Blackboard’s reliability and the familiarity students and faculty have with the program are the main reasons the University uses the software, said Jennifer Korjus, executive director for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. The University also contracts Blackboard to manage the GWorld and Colonial Cash technology.

Korjus declined to comment on how much GW spends each year for Blackboard’s services.

“I don’t foresee any impact on GW students in the near future,” Korjus said. “Even if Blackboard loses the lawsuit, I believe they will still have the right to provide a learning management system.”

Korjus said GW benefits from Blackboard’s current format because of the different forms of communication it offers students and faculty.

“It provides a vehicle by which students can access syllabi, tests and engage each other to build a learning community around their courses,” she said.

The University has used Blackboard since fall 2003 to facilitate professor interaction with students outside the classroom. It replaced Prometheus, GW’s own online teaching aid that an alum developed in 1997. University officials previously told The Hatchet that Blackboard replaced Prometheus because it provided users with more features.

Blackboard’s patents give it rights over “Internet-based education support system and methods,” according to court documents. The patent was filed in 1999 and was granted in January 2006.

“(The patents) cover core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems,” according to the company’s Web site.

The amount of damages Blackboard is seeking has not been released.

Desire2Learn claimed Blackboard’s patent is too general to be enforceable under U.S. patent laws, according to a rebuttal document filed in court Sept. 14.

According to Desire2Learn’s Web site, the competitor differs from Blackboard because it is more flexible to specific customer needs and provides online peer reviews and search options.

John Baker, president and CEO of Desire2Learn, said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education in August that the company did not expect a lawsuit.

“We were very disappointed in the course of action Blackboard has taken in this matter,” he said. “We will be defending ourselves vigorously.”

Blackboard Public Relations Manager Melissa Chotiner said she could not comment on the lawsuit. Other officials were unavailable for comment.

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