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Educational Patents, Open Access Journals, and Clashing Values

August 14, 2007

I just stumbled on a post called “Educational Patents, Open Access Journals, and Clashing Values”, which is a great introductory resource on what’s going on with Blackboard and their educational software patents against education. One additional resource not directly mentioned in the post are the tutorials the companies posted to help illustrate their positions.

I’ve been pretty involved in the whole patent thing since it began so the introductory information isn’t what caught my attention. It’s what Peter writes about clashing values that I found most interesting. Peter proposes that the values of the educational community, and the values of the business community are at odds.

“I think we have examples of clashing values — the values of the higher
education community and the values of the business community. The
values that drive the latter are characteristically geared towards
profit-seeking for shareholders and others with a financial interest in
the business. The values of the former tend to be towards collegial
cooperation.”

Given the examples that lead up to this conclusion, I can’t hardly disagree with his point.

“After all, if you are at an academic institution, do you want to see
your license and maintenance dollars go to funding lawsuits against
competitors? In analyzing Blackboard’s actions, some have speculated
that this is what can happen when a technology company runs out of
intellectual capital — it has to resort to lawsuits to hold off
competitors, paralyze the open source community, remain profitable, and
stay afloat.”

He does seem to be capturing the essence of one of the most visible examples capturing media attention today. However, there are also good examples of businesses who are indeed part of the education community. I’m one of the founders of a company called rSmart that was started on this basis, that works with open source communities like Sakai and Kuali, and indeed has been an integral part of forming and cultivating these initiatives. Even giants like IBM are transforming to adapt and support open source communities with a similar collegial cooperation characteristic of the education community.

So we should be careful not to over generalize. There are clashing values between some businesses and the education community. Blackboard might even be the poster child for values that clash. But there are businesses out there that operate with the same collegial cooperation, and share the values of the education community. Indeed some are part of the education community.

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