A few years back FLOSSE POSSE featured quite a few postings related to
the issue of software patents and e-learning (http://flosse.dicole.org/?category=noelearningpatents).
Lately, the issue has been somewhat dormant, especially here in the EU.
Last week, though, the news broke out that a US jury delivered its
verdict on the case of Blackboard Inc. vs. Desire2Learn (both being
Learning Management Systems). It turns out that the jury sided with
Blackboard, who claimed that Desire2Learn, its biggest competitor in
the US market, infringed its patent. A judgement of $3.1 million was
made in favour of Blackboard. S.Downes has posted a follow-up of the
reactions in the blogosphere.
What does that all mean for teachers,
learners, parents, researchers, decision-makers, e-learning
practitioners, developers and e-learning providers in the EU? We so
often hear about the insane US patent litigations, but what’s happening on our
own home turf?
Back in 2006, that was when we last discussed European “software
patents” (Computer Implemented Innovations), there was a movement of
e-learning practitioners (more than 500!) who signed the petition “Don’t
allow software patents to threaten technology enhanced learning in
Europe”. It aimed “to alert European authorities and policy-makers
to the dangers of software patents, and particularly to the negative
impact they could have on e-learning that uses information and
communication technologies (ICT) to enhance education.” The petition
was drafted by a community of e-learning practitioners
after the first European Conference on Open Source for Education in the
Netherlands in Nov 2005.
Our point was that “Money spent on software patent and defending
against litigation would be better spent on development, education and
training”. “The software patents present a clear danger for the
whole field of e-learning, not only for its open source community, but
for each developer and decision-maker who is responsible for delivering
better education with the support of ICTs.”
With the help of FFII we dug out a number of pending e-learning patents
in European Patent Office that we thought were not innovative, were
truly trivial and threatening e-learning. You can see some here.
Oh, and BTW, one of them is the pending claim from Blackboard
Software Patent: Internet-based education support system and methods”.
“In Europe, there is unresolved controversy over software patents and
the inability to reach political consensus on the community patent,
EPLA, or other approaches to integrating the European patent system.”
says a site called http://www.eupaco.org/
(forum initiated by FFII – the good
guys). President of FFII explains: “everyone agrees that patents can
have a big economic impact. Everyone agrees that getting the patent
system ‘right’ is essential to Europe’s growth and prosperity.”
Let’s keep our eyes and ears open not
to get ourselves into the troubles of a US-style patent system!
Just as a reminder, let’s repeat why:
Were the software patents granted, for the field of e-learning in
general, we consider the following disadvantages:
* A likely rise in the cost of applications to support learning and
underlying communication structures, operating systems and other
software, together with a reduction in the choice of available
* A negative effect on “in-house” and open source development of
educational applications. Many European educational authorities
(Ministries of Education, universities, regional educational
authorities, small and medium size enterprises) develop educational
platforms and applications for educational use. Money spent on software
patent and defending against litigation would be better spent on
development, education and training.
* The rollout of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for educational
purposes would be jeopardised by the threat of software patents. They
could have a negative effect on some open source development, as it
could become impossible for some FOSS to exist. Furthermore, users may
become afraid to change to using FOSS because of fears regarding
possible costs or litigations due to software patents.
Read the “No e-learning patent” consultation text that we sent to the EC for more arguments.