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04.02.08

USPTO Hall of Shame, Blackboard’s Setback and the Art of Not Sharing

Posted in Courtroom, Intellectual Monopoly, Law, Patents at 3:57 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

All Your Support Desks Are Belong [sic] to Us

Have a look at this patent pick from The Register. Do you see anything wrong with it?

A US patent granted to SNAPin details a process for spotting when a user is trying to call support, and presenting them with a self-help package rather than connecting the call.

[...]

The patent (US Patent number 7,353,016) isn’t limited to displaying self-help support, and the possibilities are endless. Calls to companies could be redirected to their web pages, and calls to friends could load up their Facebook presence, avoiding that wasteful human interaction users seem so keen on.

When lawsuits over nonesense like this are brought into court, the accused party is likely to settle simply because it’s cheaper than lawyers. So the obligatory question to ask is, what was the USPTO thinking when it approved such an obvious ‘invention’?

Blackboard Again

Another company that possess obvious patents which it also uses is Blackboard, which was funded by Microsoft. The company owns many generic ideas pertaining to education on-line. Heise has the report about their greed backfiring.

In a recently published decision (PDF file), the US patent office has declared US company Blackboard’s e-learning patent invalid. The patent office rejected all 44 claims in the disputed US patent number 6,988,138, (“Alcorn patent”) for a system for teaching in a virtual classroom using the internet, including chat, a virtual blackboard and provision of teaching materials.

Re-examination of the patent was applied for by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and Canadian Blackboard competitor Desire2Learn in late 2006. It referred to copious evidence that the technology described by Blackboard was already being widely used elsewhere when the patent claim was submitted. The patent office has now broadly accepted the claim for prior art with some modifications.

We mentioned this story fairly recently and included more pointers for those who are new to the Blackboard nuisance (or leech).

Sharing Versus Restrictions

Creativity is a wonderful thing. Using their skills, many artists wish to share and impress with the fruits of their labour. They realise that good work without exposure goes unnoticed and unrewarded. So what kind of artist would religiously try to keep his/her work from spreading, or make the mistake of thinking only about the short-term gain, failing to realise that worth is a function of exposure? Have we not learned from MySQL’s one-billion-dollar market valuation? Glyn Moody touched on that and the lesson to be taken here is that by sharing ideas we all benefit and offer more value. The same rules apply to algorithms, which are a case of ideas, not copyrights (copyrights are ‘harder’).

One of the interesting side-effects of the increasing number of artists making their work freely available with great success is that it demonstrates a deep and hitherto unappreciated facet of creativity: that the main problem is never “infringement” but simply indifference.

[...]

Oh, of course, it doesn’t matter whether anyone *reads* your poetry, so long as you get paid for it. The idea that a real poet might be more concerned with the latter – and worry about the dosh later – is clearly an outmoded idea.

Right on the money (pun unintended).

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