BlackBoard’s Patent and the Hunt for Prior Art – Woops! That Didn’t Take Long

Well, the clock is ticking for BlackBoard and whether they are going to come out with cease and desist letters blazing or do something intelligent that will endear them to the edu-blogosphere.

By the way, here is the link to the actual patent on the USPTO website.

Evidence of searches for prior art are starting to popup. Here’s a quote from the comments to a FortnightlyMailing post…

"…There is certainly clear prior art from the very early 1990s. Details follow.

From the historical perspective I date the development of "modern"bulletin board systems in e-learning from 1991. When we started to useFirstClass at the Open University on the JANUS project, within a fewmonths many of the so-called "standard" features had been developed -quasi-geographical virtual campus representation, assignmentsubmission, student-only areas, chat, etc…"

The patent seems to have been applied for in 1999 which would make anything in 1998 fair game for prior art. I am not a lawyer, but I recall doing some work with a couple of companies doing similar things around that time.

A very little digging around in the Internet WayBack Machine finds this website from MadDuck Software – makers of Web Course In A Box…

It’s dated June 12, 1998 and MadDuck was certainly doing a lot of the same things mentioned in the patent. Here’s the link.

A little closer to my legal education home, I could swear that West, Inc. had launched TWEN (The West Education Network) that far back and sure enough…

This is dated January 10, 1998. Here’s the link.

If I recall, West launched TWEN as a competitor to MadDuck which had a deal to distribute their software to law schools via Lexis. That means MadDuck goes back to 1997 and maybe even 1996.

I would guess that the evidence will mount quickly since things like this move in Internet time and so if BlackBoard is going to salvage any goodwill out of this, they better say something soon.

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