August 16, 2006

US Patent 6,988,138

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4790485.stm

When Blackboard merged with Web CT in late 2005, it became the largest company marketing Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). Last month Blackboard was granted a very broad patent (translated into plain English here) and has issued a writ against a Canadian company Desire2Learn for breach. If you believe, as I do, that such ridiculously general patents stifle innovation, the "Noedupatents" wiki offers suggestions for converting outrage into action

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. It is indeed madness. It’s not just this one though, there are just so many very general technology patents that are just insane…such as the anti-Blackberry email patents that recently cost RIM a fortune :(

    16 Aug 2006, 16:51

  2. P.L.Hayes

    It isn’t really broad patents that are the problem. Broad patents can be desirable and economically justified. They are commonplace and an inevitable consequence of the patent system anyway; as are “obvious” and “trivial” patents. The problem is subject matter. Patents are monopoly rights to exclude – powerful legal privileges giving patentees the means to curtail the natural rights of others*. They are not at all like copyrights and there are alternative mechanisms (e.g. lead-time advantage, trade secrets and competetive pressure) which work to stimulate innovation and enhance economic welfare. The economic evidence suggests that patents are important and probably achieve their goals (and are consequently justifiable) in only a few industries. Yet against the advice and even petitions of economists (and many others), the scope of patentable subject matter has been recklessly and enormously extended anyway – in particular, to information processing.

    • Of course no-one is too worried about this aspect of patents when the “natural rights” being curtailed are those of large pharmaceutical companies but it is a very different matter when a great many independent reinventors, small businesses, non-commercial entities etc. are affected.

    17 Aug 2006, 00:52


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