Blackboard, Inc. is the developer of a proprietary course management system of the same name.
The Problems with Blackboard
In April 2003, the company sued student hackers and security researchers Billy Hoffman and Virgil Griffith for publishing, and planning to present, a paper highlighting security flaws in their Blackboard Transaction System.
On January 17, 2006, Blackboard was granted US patent 6,988,138 on "Internet-based education support system and methods" (with other multinational patents having been issued or pending) with claims over features of course management systems (US patent 6,988,138).
On July 26, 2006, the company issued a press release regarding its patent portfolio and on that day filed a lawsuit against Desire2Learn, another course management system provider, for patent infringement, using the above patent to assert its rights under US patent law. The Complaint was filed in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Texas, Lufkin Division, a rural East Texas judicial district. Desire2Learn have posted a Patent Information page which comprehensively documents Blackboard's complaint against them.
FreeCulture.org is against proprietary software, business method patents, software patents, and frivilous lawsuits that undermine freedom of speech and academic inquiry. Because Blackboard actively engages in all of these activities, it is advisable that Blackboard be avoided where possible, and that it's software system be replaced with Free and Open Source alternatives.
Actions Taken Against Blackboard
BoycottBlackboard.org has started a petition to cease the use of Blackboard products and services.
NoEduPatents.org, a website dedicated to fighting patents on educational software, has a large amount of information about the Blackboard patent, including a great deal of possible prior art.
On the 9th of August, 2006, a complaint was filed against Blackboard, Inc. by Portaschool of Atlanta, GA in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia for deceptive business practices, and knowlingly and willingfully misrepresenting themselves in a patent application.
Alternatives to Blackboard
Listed below are several high quality Free and Open Source alternatives to Blackboards proprietary system.
Moodle is a high quality, actively developed system. By some accounts it is the second most popular learning management system in use today, behind Blackboard's system. Moodle has been translated to over 60 different languages, is used in over 170 countries worldwide, and is distributed as Free Software under the GNU General Public License.
.LRN is a relatively new learning management system, but is already featureful. It was originally developed by MIT, but is now driven by an active community of developers worldwide. Despite it's name, it does not rely on the propritary ".NET" framework, and is available as Free Software under the GNU General Public License.
LON-CAPA is a powerful learning content management and assessment system, originally developed at the Michigan State University. It is distributed as Free Software under the GNU General Public License.
The Sakai Project is a course management that is being actively developed by over 70 educational institutions. It is released as open source software, under the Educational Community License. (Sadly, this license is probably incompatable with the GNU GPL, which we'd prefer.)