The one “Please Call Me” question Vodacom refuses to answer

Vodacom refuses to answer one question on the Please Call Me matter: Who invented the Please Call Me?

This is curious, considering the prolonged legal battle over the service following Kenneth Makate’s claim that he came up with the idea for the Please Call Me and was promised compensation by Vodacom.

Vodacom fought against Makate’s claim, but the Constitutional Court ruled against Vodacom.

Vodacom now has to negotiate with Makate. Makate told the Sunday Times he wants 15c of every rand of revenue generated by the Please Call Me service.

Former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig’s version

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court called former Vodacom executives’ version of how the Please Call Me product started a “lie”.

In his book Second is Nothing, former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig said the Please Call Me idea happened by chance.

Alan was leaning over the railing of the Vodacom building chatting to a colleague, Phil Geissler, when Phil pointed out one security guard trying to attract another’s attention, and because his buddy didn’t see him, the security guard called him on his cellphone. Alan immediately spoke to Leon [Crouse] about creating a Please Call Me service.

Knott-Craig said he did not know that the idea had originated from an employee (Makate) who communicated it to Phil Geissler.

“Phil Geissler certainly did not mention this to me when pointing out the idea from the balcony,” said Knott-Craig.

The official Please Call Me inventor

MTN owns a patent on the concept on which the Please Call Me service is based, and which was filed on 22 January 2001. Ari Kahn, who previously consulted for MTN, was behind the idea and the patent.

MTN launched the Please Call Me service soon afterwards – six weeks ahead of Vodacom.

“There is a law around intellectual property rights called Patent Law. Unless someone can show a patent to claim inventorship, they cannot claim to be the creator of the service,” Kahn told Eyewitness News.

“So it doesn’t really matter what Makate, or anybody else for that matter within Vodacom, was developing at the time; the fact is they did not progress their ideas into intellectual property rights.”

“They did not launch before MTN launched. By the time Vodacom launched the service, MTN had already delivered millions of please call me messages on their public network.”

There is also speculation that MTN threatened legal action against Vodacom when it launched Please Call Me in March 2001, but decided not to follow through.

Vodacom mum on who invented the Please Call Me

Despite numerous requests, Vodacom refused to answer the question: Who invented the Please Call Me?

Vodacom sidestepped the question, and provided the following statement instead:

Vodacom confirms that it is planning to initiate discussions with Mr Makate within the time frame outlined by the Constitutional Court to determine a reasonable compensation on the “Please Call Me” matter.

Vodacom is fully committed to conducting these negotiations in good faith and concluding them as soon as is practicably possible.

Commentators have suggested that Vodacom knows it was MTN which invented the Please Call Me, and it decided to rather do legal battle with Makate than the well-resourced mobile rival.

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The one “Please Call Me” question Vodacom refuses to answer