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Canadian software firm loses against Blackboard

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | MAR 10 2008

A Texas jury ruled that Canadian educational software firm Desire2Learn infringed on a patent from its large American rival, Blackboard Inc. In its Feb. 22 decision, the jury concluded that Desire2Learn’s software uses technology for which Blackboard received a patent in 2006 and awarded the American company $3.1 million US in lost profits and royalties.

Desire2Learn, based in Kitchener, Ontario, produces a Web-based platform for the delivery of online education. Its products are used by hundreds of K-12 schools, several departments of education and dozens of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, including Memorial University, University of Guelph and Université de Moncton.

John Baker, president and CEO of Desire2Learn, said he was disappointed with the ruling but said it poses “no immediate threat to our clients.” He said his company will “continue to challenge the patent’s validity and Blackboard’s charges of infringement,” adding, “we are currently evaluating our next steps.”

The case has been closely watched by campus-technology officials and users. Educational technology bloggers were largely unsupportive of Blackboard’s suit, and many worried that a ruling in favour of the company would stifle innovation and leave course-management software providers vulnerable to further legal challenges from Blackboard.

Alfred Essa, associate vice-chancellor and deputy chief information officer of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, wrote in his blog that the ruling “is a crushing blow to Desire2Learn, one of the few remaining commercial competitors to Blackboard in the higher education [learning management system] market.”

It is “a very significant setback for Desire2Learn,” agreed Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. However, he said the case is far from over. “There are likely to be further twists and turns in the U.S. legal process before this issue is definitively settled.”

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