Patents show the way forward for the learning landscape?

One entertaining approach to future gazing is keeping an eye on what is happening with patents. I’m never sure how much value they really add to my current awareness but it is interesting what pops up.

These curious beasts have made headlines a few times in recent years, not least in ed tech/learning technology circles when Blackboard took the battle to D2L.  More recently, I’ve most commonly heard them discussed in relation to the mobile phone industry, including contributing considerably to the value of Motorola (twice) and Nokia.

Now I must admit I do not remember the specifics, but when at Information School one of the careers talks from alumni was around a career in patents.  I remember being perplexed and not particularly enthralled by the careers described.  As has become the case with mobile phones, they seem (to the untrained eye) an increasingly petty tool used in corporate legal battles.  New Zealand, for example, has banned software patents and many supporters of open source software will support the advantages it offers over this route.

One criticism around patent wars, not least in Blackboard’s case, was the use of patents describing potentially universal uses of technology that should not be restricted to use by whoever got to the patent office first.  Some recent examples touch upon similar ground:

  1. Instructional design and development interface (Pearson Inc).  A sensible idea in seemingly looking to bring together LCMS, authoring tools, publishing and other functionality.  However, on the surface, this has crossovers with tools such as Xyleme and LAMS.  Overall, there is probably a need for something like this, if you buy in to the need for ‘courses’ and related materials continuing, the tool itself hinting towards the continuing struggles of organizations to manage IP and publish course materials quickly,
  2. System and method for providing answers to questions (IBM).  Suspect that we may see more of this kind of thing, effectively smart tools to further improve information retrieval and replace the need for intermediaries, such as Q&A services.  These are the kind of inventions people are thinking about when they say knowledge workers face mass redundancy – just imagine how much time you’d save if your corporate systems always found you the answer you were looking for 😉
  3. Thinking your knowledge/L&D job is safe as people will always need help using these systems?  Then maybe think again: Techniques for automatic generation of instruction-set documentation (Synopsys, Inc.).  You just have to hope for the inventors that the instructional material developed is easier to understand than the legalese of the patent report: “a plurality of rules grouped by common convergent instructions. Each rule describes an instruction path through the hierarchical structure that converges at a corresponding convergent instruction”.
  4. Finally for this random selection the very grand sounding: “SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR ENHANCING INTERACTIVE ONLINE LEARNING TECHNOLOGY” (LoudCloud Systems).  Which effectively sounds like a tool to automatically produce xml documents in a repository from source material?

Reminds me of the film title: “The Future Is Unwritten”.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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