Life among the clueless: the Blackboard patent

When I was a poker player in college days, the only table I refused to join was one where a player did not understand the rules. One guy could ruin a game for everyone by doing things so stupid that no one expected them. Which brings me to the U.S. Patent Office.

This morning, Harold Jarche gave me the news that Blackboard has won a patent for the learning management system and sued a major competitor. The breadth of the patent is staggering. It covers:

A course-based system for providing to an educational community of users access to a plurality of online courses, comprising: a) a plurality of user computers, with each user computer being associated with a user of the system and with each user being capable of having predefined characteristics indicative of multiple predetermined roles in the system, each role providing a level of access to a plurality of data files associated with a particular course and a level of control over the data files associated with the course with the multiple predetermined user roles comprising at least two userís predetermined roles selected from the group consisting of a student role in one or more course associated with a student user, an instructor role in one or more courses associated with an instructor user and an administrator role associated with an administrator user, and b) a server computer in communication with each of the user computers over a network, the server computer comprising: means for storing a plurality of data files associated with a course, means for assigning a level of access to and control of each data file based on a user of the systemís predetermined role in a course; means for determining whether access to a data file associated with the course is authorized; means for allowing access to and control of the data file associated with the course if authorization is granted based on the access level of the user of the system.

Michael Feldstein reported this in his blog a week ago but it didn’t make waves. Maybe it was too big a nightmare for SumTotal, Saba, Plateau, and their brethren to think about. I imagine they are all in line for extortion, √ la Blackberry.

This reminds me of the story about the fellow who buys a bronze statue of a rat in an antique store. The shopkeeper warns the buyer that the statue carries a curse but the guy buys it anyway.A few steps out the door, he sees a rat following him. It’s joined by another. Two blocks later, fifty rats are chasing him down the street. Soon there are hundreds of rats. The guy runs to the bridge and throws the statue in the river. Every rat jumps in the river after it and drowns.

The fellow returns to the antique shop. The shopkeeper says, “No, you can’t have your money back. I told you that statue was cursed. You didn’t heed my warning….”

“That’s not why I’m here,” said the buyer. “I just want to know if you have a statue of a lawyer.”

By the way, I’m filing a patent on learning. It’s a process by which the brain of a human being connects neural pathways in response to outside stimuli. The patent includes, ipso facto, hearing, sight, smell, taste, talking and feeling. If you don’t cease learning immediately, you will hear from my attorney, ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia, ab irato, et audentes fortuna iuvat.

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