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July 2018

Legal threat over 'common practice' teaching technique

A language teacher in the US has been threatened with legal action unless he stops providing online courses that use a 'common practice' teaching technique, according to a digital rights charity, writes Federica Tedeschi.

UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton is accusing teacher Mihalis Eleftheriou’s of infringing their patented ‘Language teaching system’ which is covered by US Patent No. 6,565,358.

Eleftheriou’s Language Transfer project consists of a variety of online courses taught through audio files uploaded to platforms such as Soundcloud and Youtube.

The patent covers the use of ‘a particular sequence of expression segments' to be played on a ‘recorded medium’ using a ‘playing device’.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is supporting his case, ‘Expression segments’ refers to any activity where a teacher presents an expression in L2, asks students to translate into L1, and after a short pause, provides the correct answer .

EFF point out that this is a common practice in many language classrooms. However, the publishers claim that they have the exclusive right to use this method for recorded courses.

EFF, which represents the interests of internet product developers, argues that the Hodder and Stoughton patent is invalid under a 2014 Supreme Court’s decision which found that ‘an abstract idea does not become eligible for patent protection merely by being implemented on conventional or generic technology’.

Hodder and Stoughton told the El Gazette that they are ‘fully supportive of the teaching of languages provided that it is done in a way that respects the intellectual property rights of authors and creators. Where those rights are infringed we are entitled to protect them.’

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