E-learning bedreigd door softwarepatenten

More E-Learning Patent Suits Expected in 2004

bron: American Society for Training & Development

E-learning suppliers will dig deeper in 2004 to pay license fees for patents that cover inventions and business processes used in online learning. That's the prediction from patent attorneys and other experts following another growth year on the intellectual property licensing front.

"The number of suits over patents will continue to increase as more patents are awarded", says Michael Sartori, a Washington, D.C. patent attorney. The licensing of intellectual property (IP) is big business in the e-learning space, as it is with other areas of technological innovation, to the delight of some companies and the consternation of others. Numerous patent applications for Internet and e-learning related inventions continue to win approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), a process that can take up to four years. The PTO is currently ruling on patent applications filed in 1999 and 2000.

And a recent penchant for litigation has triggered alarm bells throughout the e-learning industry. For example, Mountain View, California-based IpLearn announced December 3, 2003, that it had won an agreement granting DigitalThink a license to use part of its patented technologies. The settlement follows an August 2002 complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against DigitalThink and two of its customers alleging that DigitalThink infringed certain IpLearn patents.

Indeed, a growing chorus of e-learning executives contend that settlements could endanger the viability of the e-learning space. One executive (who asked not to be named) warns that "no e-learning company is safe from such expensive law suits, including small suppliers and corporate customers who conduct their own proprietary e-learning". He applauded efforts being sought to overhaul the patent process to separate true software innovation from generic methods that belong in the public domain.

Attorney Sartori (who did not review the IpLearn patents and expressed no opinion regarding them) says the PTO has a two-step process for business method-related inventions that is aimed at weeding out those that lack merit. He says a second pair of eyes review by a committee is likely to give future patent applications tighter scrutiny.