This kind of thing just makes me shake my tiny fists in anger until I realize that the world is not yet sufficiently messed up for it to fly. Essentially, a company called Test Central Inc. has claimed that they own the patent to online testing (viewable online here), and that universities that decide to offer tests online (e.g., for classes or for online distance learning) have to pay them for the privilege.
Scribbled the quote monkey:
When Regis University put some of its courses online in the 1990s,
officials there figured that it was a no-brainer to administer tests
online as well. And so they did.
Last fall, however, they received a threatening letter from Test
Central Inc., which holds a patent on various types of online
testing. The company claims that Regis and other colleges may be
infringing on that patent and, if so, must pay thousands of dollars
to continue offering tests online.
…”There are many organizations out there who have made a ton of money
off of the technology that we’ve got a patent on,” says James J.
Posch, chief executive officer of Test Central and of its parent
company, Test.com. “Our concern is that other people are profiting at
That last quote from the guy at Test Central really gets me. Profiting at their expense? What expense is that? Their not paying you to do the testing for them is not an expense. I’m not claiming to be an expert on patents or associated laws, but that doesn’t make any sense.
It gets worse. If you read the patent, it sounds like this could also apply to any online testing, including for employment testing, which is growing very quickly as well. Here’s the patent’s abstract:
A method of making a tests, assessments, surveys and lesson plans with images and sound files and posting them on-line for potential users. Questions are input by a test-maker and then the questions are compiled into a test by a host system and posted on-line for potential test-takers. The compiled test may be placed in a directory for access by the test-takers, the directory preferably having a plurality of categories corresponding to different types of tests and the compiled test is placed in the appropriate category. For ease in administration, a just-made test is placed into a temporary category so that it may be later reviewed (by the proprietor of the host system) and placed in the most appropriate category.
That’s so broad I don’t see how it could possibly hold up. In fact, it sounds a lot like the guy who tried to pull something similar by patenting the hyperlink, which also eventually flopped. But it costs next to nothing to send out threatening letters, and it sounds like the universities aren’t going to take this seriously. And how could they?
Is it too late for me to patent multiple choice tests? Or heck, testing in general? I could make millions off the work of others. Millions!