Software Patent: Sakai Foundation recognizes Blackboard’s patent pledge

The patent pledge announced by Blackboard was recognized by the Boards of Directors of the Sakai Foundation and of EDUCAUSE as:

a step in a more positive direction for the community, to the extent that it offers some comfort to a portion of the academic community that uses open source or homegrown systems.

Blackboard press release report the following statement from the EDUCAUSE and Sakai Boards of Directors:

We particularly welcome the inclusion of pending patents, the clarification on the commercial support, customization, hosting or maintenance of open source systems and the worldwide nature of Blackboard’s pledge. We also appreciate the willingness of Blackboard to continue with frank and direct dialogue with our two organizations and with other higher education representatives and groups to work toward addressing these problems of community concern.

Blackboard missed to report other interesting statements from the Sakai’s press release:

Although Blackboard has included in the pledge many named open source initiatives, regardless of whether they incorporate proprietary elements in their applications, Blackboard has also reserved rights to assert its patents against other providers of such systems that are “bundled” with proprietary code. We remain concerned that this bundling language introduces legal and technical complexity and uncertainty which will be inhibitive in this arena of development.

Sakai’s concerns about uncertainty are better clarified by the following excerpt:

As a result, the Sakai Foundation and EDUCAUSE find it difficult to give the wholehearted endorsement we had hoped might be possible. Some of Sakai’s commercial partners and valued members of the open source community will not be protected under this pledge. Furthermore, EDUCAUSE and Sakai worked to gain a pledge that Blackboard would never take legal action for infringement against a college or university using another competing product. While Blackboard ultimately agrees that such actions are not in its best interest from a customer relations viewpoint, it could not agree for reasons related to its existing legal case. Our organizations will remain vigilant on this point as protecting our member institutions is of top priority.

Partial pledges are dreadful, Commercial Open Source really do not need them. Some of the commercial affiliates partecipating to the Sakai technological club might have serious problems to enjoy Blackboard’s patent pledge, where universities are much less exposed to IP claims.

I’m afraid there is space for a dividi et impera (divide and conquer) technique, do you agree?