Please Call Me inventor Ari Kahn revealed that the Please Call Me patent “entered the public domain in 2007 when MTN failed to pay a yearly annuity”.
It is unclear if it was deliberate from MTN, or whether it was an oversight not to pay the annual fee.
The Please Call Me service made headlines recently after the Constitutional Court ordered Vodacom to negotiate with former employee Nkosana Makate to determine “reasonable compensation” for his Please Call Me idea.
This followed a prolonged legal battle, where Makate’s legal team argued that Vodacom promised him compensation for the idea.
Makate is asking for 15c of every rand of revenue that the Please Call Me generated, which amounts to around R10.5 billion.
Vodacom not focussing on intellectual property rights
In May 2015, Kahn advised Vodacom to focus on the “irrefutable intellectual property rights to the Call Me service”.
“The irrefutable fact is the Call Me technology was created by me in 2000 during my tenure at MTN as lead R&D consultant,” said Kahn.
“It was disclosed to the SA Patent office on 22 January 2001, which granted the patent and recognized me as inventor.”
Kahn warned that focussing on the “contract” aspect of the case – despite urging Vodacom’s counsel to bring “the patent front and centre to the court” – put Vodacom at risk of losing R10 billion.
Kahn’s warning turned out to be valuable advice, which raises the question: Why did Vodacom not want to focus on who invented the Please Call Me in its legal battle against Makate?
Kahn speculated that Vodacom may have felt legally exposed and vulnerable acknowledging him and MTN as the source of the service.
However, said Kahn, the reality is the Please Call Me patent entered the public domain in 2007 when MTN failed to pay the yearly annuity.
“So, legally Vodacom is off the MTN hook, since the rights to the technology now vests in the public domain,” said Kahn.
Vodacom cooked themselves a nice little broth: Errol Elsdon
Errol Elsdon – chairman at Sterling Rand, the firm which represents Makate – said Vodacom is facing a serious problem.
“The problem confronting Vodacom is that they are faced with the bragging of [Alan] Knott-Craig that Vodacom made hundreds of millions of rand through “his invention”,” he said.
“How do they now undo that lie?”
“Vodacom cooked themselves a nice little broth here and they are now going to have to stew in it. It could not have happened to a nicer bunch of fellows,” said Elsdon.
Vodacom and MTN mum on the issue
MTN was asked why it failed to pay its yearly annuity for its “Please Call Me” patent, but the company said it “does not have a comment on this issue”.
Vodacom would not comment on who invented the Please Call Me service. It also did not provide feedback on why it did not focus on the patent aspect of it legal case.