Those of you who aren't involved in online teaching technology will not have heard the almighty commotion caused by Blackboard Inc's patent actions. Not only has it been awarded a highly specious US patent which covers pretty much the basic functions of most VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments), but it immediately launched a lawsuit against a company called Desire2Learn for patent infringement. This aggressive action is clearly an attempt to wound competitors rather than to protect intellectual property, especially when you consider that there's an enormous wealth of prior art which should prove the patent groundless very easily. Nevertheless, no company or community should have to spend money on lawyers to defend itself against specious patents like this.
One writer has published a nice graphical explanation of the content of the patent. Michael Feldstein has written some interesting comments, including an article about how such patents can stifle innovation, irrespective of whether the patents are directly used to stifle a given competitor. The company eCollege issued a press release arguing that the patent was invalid. (I hadn't heard of eCollege before but it's good to see these kind of statements coming from companies with paid lawyers....) And a community site has been set up, noedupatents.org, to gather information and provide guidance for those who wish to help fight the patent. Interesting times.