Clean Slate

Blackboard abruptly ends its patent fight with Desire2Learn.
December 16, 2009

Blackboard, known for its tenacity in the e-learning market, on Tuesday announced it is backing off from its long patent feud with the Canadian company Desire2Learn.

The dispute dates back to 2006, when Blackboard sued Desire2Learn in a Texas district court for 38 counts of patent infringement, seeking millions in damages. The court only upheld three counts, and both companies appealed the parts of the decision they had lost to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which in 2008 dismissed all of Blackboard’s claims against Desire2Learn. But by then the industry giant had filed additional patent-infringement lawsuits against its smaller competitor, which were pending -- until Tuesday, when the rivals announced the détente.

"We are pleased to have resolved our differences with Desire2Learn," said Michael Chasen, CEO of Blackboard, in a press release. "Bringing this matter to resolution is in the best interests of both of our organizations, our respective clients and the broader education community."

Officials from both companies declined to comment further, saying the terms of the settlement and the discussions leading to it are confidential.

However, Ray Henderson, the current president of Blackboard Learn, who served as chief products officer of the learning management company Angel before Blackboard acquired it earlier this year, alluded in a blog post to the criticism Blackboard has endured over the course of the litigation saga, and said settling the suit "best balances our various obligations and aligns with the values of the client community we serve."

"This dialog has distracted attention from the many positive contributions to the industry that Blackboard has made and can continue to make," Henderson wrote.

Many advocates of open source learning management systems strongly backed Desire2Learn in the dispute, and feared that a Blackboard victory might open the way for the company to attack their products and give the giant in the market too much control over it. While Blackboard officials repeatedly said that their actions against Desire2Learn didn't suggest any course of action against anyone else, the dispute led to much public bashing of the company.

The sudden announcement left many observers of the learning management arena -- as well as some competitors -- unwilling to offer a take on the situation.

The settlement marks the end of what has been an expensive distraction for Desire2Learn, said Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project. "Desire2Learn can start spending money on product development and client services rather than attorneys,” Green said, adding that the company might also be able to attract more clients absent the specter of litigation.

Geen said he doubts if the resolution is any sort of prelude to Blackboard acquiring Desire2Learn, despite the company’s reputation for snatching up competitors. Long term, he said, Blackboard is probably not as threatened by fellow “enterprise” products as much as free, open-source learning management systems such as Moodle and Sakai, whose market share has more than doubled, to 15.4 percent, since 2006, when Blackboard first sued Desire2Learn.


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