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February 01, 2007

The Blackboard "Pledge"

Today's announcement by Blackboard regarding a commitment in perpetuity to never assert its course management patents among open source and home grown course management systems is a legal compromise with little consequence in the higher education marketplace. In the life cycle of software, homegrown system rarely scale unless they become commercialized. In a narrow sense, the threat of a frivolous law suit to keep lawyers employed has been avoided regarding the stand alone platform issue. The implications of the pledge regarding Open Source Software is much more intriguing. I believe that over the next 5 years we are likely to see significant tension associated with this pledge. The history of community-based and open source initiatives is anything but a binary choice between open and proprietary systems. As so-called Open Source initiatives evolve over time they will continue to have proprietary pieces in their DNA and perhaps more importantly, there is a near 100% certainty that none of today's OpenSource course management systems will survive in the marketplace as autonomous offerings. As Blackboard continues to evolve as a software solutions provider it will, in all likelihood, continue to be build value by adding layers of additional functionality to its core product (think about Msft's IE and Windows OS debacle). Those new layers of functionality will almost certainly lead to confrontation with dominant proprietary players. Whether in reaction to Blackboard's position in the market (a defensive posture) or in attempt to preempt, there is a a significant likelihood that today's open source solutions will evolve, over the mid-term, first as "open source" course management platform strategic partners with proprietary enterprise integrated software solution providers and within a version release or two become tightly integrated into the proprietary software code. How Blackboard and the higher education community respond to that probable scenario is not a matter of "if" but rather "when." In the near term, the courts will likely be called upon to test the veracity of the Blackboard's patent claim against emerging alternative course management system providers. Blackboard should take one more look in the mirror and realize that it is not its patents that will protect its near monopoly share of commercial course management software (full disclosure Case Western Reserve University is an enterprise customer of Blackboard) but rather its ability to demonstrate a true commitment to innovation and responsiveness to the higher education marketplace. Today's Blackboard announcement is a short term "fix" on an unfortunate journey that starts with the anti-intellectual position of seeking a "patent" on a 21st century version of a "whiteboard and a marker"in the 20th century or dare we say a 19th version of a "blackboard and chalk".

Lev Gonick, February 1, 2007

Posted by lsg8 at February 1, 2007 12:39 PM and tagged Bytes From Lev 

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