Blackboard Patent on Classroom Software Faces Formal Challenge From Open-Source Advocates (Chronicle)

Blackboard’s patent for e-learning software, which academic critics say is overly broad and likely to stymie innovation in classroom technology, is facing a challenge to its validity.

The Software Freedom Law Center, an advocacy group for open-source software, asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this month to re-examine the patent. This is the first formal challenge against the patent’s legitimacy filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Richard E. Fontana, a lawyer for the center, said on Thursday that the organization had provided the federal office with examples of “prior art,” a term in patent law that refers to similar technology created earlier by a different party and that could be used as evidence to undermine a patent. In this case, the evidence consists of similar software that existed before Blackboard filed for its patent, in 1999, according to Mr. Fontana, who said that the material should invalidate the patent or at least weaken it to the point that other software makers would not feel threatened by it. (more…)