Is Your CMS at Risk?

Browsing the news on my RSS newsreader last week, I came across a link on LWN.net referencing the following description:

"A web site creation and maintenance system permits distributed control and centralized management of a web site. The physical implementation of the web site resides on a database maintained by a database administrator. The web site system permits a site administrator to construct the overall structure, design and style of the web site. This allows for a comprehensive design as well as a common look and feel for the web site. The web site system permits content for the web site to originate from multiple content contributors. The publication of content is controlled by content owners. This permits assignment of content control to those persons familiar with the content."

D'es any of the above description sound like any of the eLearning technology in use on your campus? Chances are if you are using a CMS (content management), a blog or related technology, you may use technology that falls within the above rubric. In these types of environments there is a centrally-created structure that includes look and feel as well as navigation. To that structure, contributors including faculty and students add and control their content without the intervention of a third party. Added content is stored, frequently in a database, for access by other users of the system.

So what d'es the above description have to do with eLearning? The statement is extracted from the abstract of an awarded patent titled "Self service system for web site publishing." Patent 6,745,238 was awarded on June 1, 2004 to Oracle based on their application of March 31, 2000.

Common sense would indicate that there were technologies that predated the March 2000 application. Common sense would also question whether this is such a common structure that it could not be so unique as to be patentable. However, I am not a patent attorney, and I haven’t the time to full explore the application and the granting of the patent. I do believe that a broad interpretation of the above statement would subsume most of the CMS environments I regularly track.

There is mounting concern that the patent process is hindering the advancement of technology. The proponents of this position argue that patents are being granted for obvious, commonly implemented technology. When the threat of a patent suit hangs over one’s head, it is difficult to evolve solutions based on prior technologies.

On the other side, patent proponents are arguing that the intellectual heavy lifting must be protected. The granting of a patent is recognition of the uniqueness of the applicant’s work. If creativity is not protected, then the incentive to invent is diminished greatly.

Irrespective of your personal intellectual position on patents, what happens when you are directly impacted? If your CMS vendor is unable to defend its solution in a patent fight, there will be repercussions for you, ranging from minor to severe.

My experience in specification efforts finds me dedicated to the idea that eLearning is advanced by open common approaches that act as building blocks for vendor-developed solutions. I am uncomfortable when I learn of patents that have the potential to control and potentially hinder the advancements in eLearning.

Are you concerned about this and similar patents, or are you comfortable with the patent process and the development of eLearning technology? Do you think this patent will have an impact on your eLearning environment? We would love to see your comments in our Viewpoint forum.

The editors of this newsletter welcome comment from Oracle.

About the Author

Frank Tansey is a technology consultant and co-editor of the SmartClassroom eLetter (formerly Technology-Enabled Teaching).

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