Scott Wilson points to another ludicrous patent - this time someone's trying to do a landgrab on community based learning. The fact that it is laughable is what's so worrying - being blatantly stupid is no guarantee against something being accepted. I want to get these potential patents in now, so if anyone does try and patent them I can claim prior exposure:
Gaming - any computer based system where the user manipulates a virtual character through a simulated world, according to rules determined by the system. The world is divided into different stages of levels which the user must demonstrate increased proficiency to gain access to. The user gains entertainment through the completion of the game.
Help systems - any computer based system that offers advice, tips or help to a user engaging with a piece of software or a computer based activity. The system is based around a knowledge base of queries and can offer just in time advice.
E-learning - any system that provides content and tools that facilitate a cognitive change in the user and promote learning.
Oh, that last one has been done already. These may seem ludicrous but software patents don't operate much beyond this level, and if they get to this stage we may as well forget any form of innovation. This is why I disagree with some of the open source response to the BB patent which is that it doesn't matter, because monolithic VLEs are crap anyway. That may, or may not, be true (in my succession model I argue that the monolithic VLEs have played an important colonization role), but even if it is, that isn't the point - if this patent succeeds then you can bet that someone will patent something you do care about, just because securing a software patent becomes part of the normal process.
If there wasn't big money involved then this practice would be reminiscent of playground behaviour. We used to use the term 'bagsy' to lay claim to something - s in "I bagsy I go in goal first" or "I bagsy the chair by the window." This was remarkably robust at settling disputes "No, I bagsied it." I can imagine educational software companies sitting around a table "I bagsy e-learning!" "Damn! Well then I bagsy resource based learning".
It may work in the playground but it's no way to run an industry.