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D2L looks to find alternatives to old software

April 3, 2008

D2L has been involved in an ongoing legal battle with its competitor, Blackboard Inc., since July of 2006, when Blackboard announced a patent granted to them for specific elements included in their course management products. On the same day, the company sued D2L for infringement of that patent.

In February, a court in Texas ruled in favor of Blackboard. According to court documents, the company was awarded $3.1 million, a fraction of the $17 million in lost revenue and royalties they had originally claimed. Of the 44 initial counts of infringement, the court dismissed all but nine.

On March 10, Blackboard filed an injunction that gave D2L 60 days to discontinue the use and sale of version 8.2.2 of its Learning Environment product in the United States. The 60 days are set to expire the Friday before finals week.

“Can you imagine what would happen if we had to get rid of D2L that close to finals?” UWRF’s D2L Administrator, Mary-Alice Muraski said. “It would pull the rug out on professors across the country.”
She said she was “shocked and appalled” by the patent claims, which she said are on software that existed long before Blackboard was even a company.

“It’s like trying to copyright spreadsheets,” she said.

In a statement to its clients, D2L said it believes Blackboard’s claims to be invalid, but the company plans to release a new version of its learning suite.

“We expect to release the redesigned product in the next few weeks,” the company said in a March 11 press release, “and well before the end of the 60-day grace period that the Court has granted.”
D2L has been the software of the UW System since 2002, when it was selected by the Board of Regents from many possible providers, including Blackboard, Muraski said. It is now used by a large majority of students and faculty. Between March 5 and 12, over 5,000 UWRF students and 256 instructors used their D2L accounts.

Some professors, like Glenn Potts of the economics department, who has used Blackboard, hopes D2L use will end.

“[Blackboard] is more attractive,” he said, “and easier to set up to meet the needs of faculty.”

Over the last few years, Blackboard’s rising profits have made it the leader in the industry, taking in more than $239 million. In late 2005, the company merged with its main competitor, WebCT. Last year, Blackboard earned more than $239 million in total revenue.

In a statement posted on their Web site, D2L issued a harsh critique of Blackboard’s business practices.

“Blackboard, which claims to have over 90 % of the course management system market today, wants to exclude its most effective competitor from the United States market entirely.”

Muraski agrees with the sentiment.

“Why would such a large company take on such a small one unless they thought that company had a better product? Think about it.”