Vodacom has admitted that Please Call Me was invented and subsequently patented by MTN before Nkosana Kenneth Makate came up with the idea.
This is according to Nkateko Nyoka, chief officer of legal and regulatory affairs at Vodacom, who added that MTN launched its version, called Call Me, a month before Vodacom did.
The statements were made in an opinion column by Nyoka to shed light on the ongoing battle between Vodacom and Makate.
Vodacom said, as per a Constitutional Court order, its CEO has determined the amount of reasonable compensation payable to Makate for his involvement in the launch of the Please Call Me and considers the matter as settled and closed.
Nyoka said Vodacom is waiting to pay Makate “a significant amount”.
The true Please Call Me inventor
The true inventor of the Please Call Me service is Ari Kahn, who consulted for MTN and created the “Call Me” technology in 2000.
The SA Patent office granted the Call Me patent to Kahn and MTN, and recognised Kahn as the inventor on 22 January 2001.
Kahn provided MyBroadband with a timeline of events that led to the Call Me product.
- On 20 November 2000 Makate shares his idea with Vodacom and requests payment.
- Vodacom says “lets develop and use the idea” and if it proves technically feasible and commercially successful “we will reward you”.
- A week earlier on 15 November 2000, Kahn had already conceived the idea and briefed patent attorneys on 16 November to prepare a patent application for filing.
- Not only did Kahn conceive the idea first, he reduced it to practice first and sought IP protection first – filing a patent disclosing all the steps and methods required to deliver a working solution.
- MTN filed for IP protection first and it launched the service first on 23 January 2001 – seven weeks before Vodacom.
- The MTN service worked, and millions of users sent “Call me” messages over the MTN network during the first few weeks – which establishes prior art as Vodacom had yet to publicly disclose and launch their service.
- Vodacom launches a similar service on 15 March 2001. The service is a carbon copy of the MTN service and is even identically named “Call me” – it was later changed to “Please Call Me”.
- MTN immediately notifies Vodacom that they are infringing on their patent.
- Vodacom informs Makate that MTN already have the service and are threatening legal action for infringement.
Makate should not get a cent – Kahn
As the Please Call Me inventor, Kahn believes Makate should not get a cent from Vodacom for his “invention”.
Kahn said Makate was not the originator of the Please Call Me, adding that the courts never once ruled he invented the service. “You cannot invent an idea, which is all he proposed,” said Kahn.
He added that Vodacom did not benefit one iota from Makate’s contribution, but rather from MTN choosing not to enforce its rights at the time.
“The entire case has been portrayed as ‘the little guy denied his due by the big bully network’ to garner sympathy and obfuscate the fact that he did not actually invent the service,” Kahn said.
Makate not happy with the amount
Regardless of this, Makate has said he did not agree to a compensation payout from Vodacom – following the company saying the matter is closed.
Vodacom explained that the Constitutional Court ordered the company to pay Makate an amount determined by its CEO and does not require Makate to agree to the amount.
This caused a backlash from politicians and a lobby group, which want to see the company reach a mutually-agreed settlement with Makate.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams told Vodacom to “just shut up” and to talk to Makate about the matter.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said on Twitter that people must stand by “Nkosana ‘Please Call Me’ Makate” against “this bully called Vodacom”.
Lesufi added Makate must be protected from Vodacom and that the company must pay him by 31 January 2019 or face the wrath of the nation.
Vodacom shutdown threatened
The PleaseCallMe Movement, headed by Modise Sekgothe, is also threatening to shut down Vodacom on 31 January if a settlement has not been reached.
The movement, which claims to be against corporate bullying and consumer injustice, said Vodacom owes Makate R70 billion for his idea.
“Join us as we will be shutting down Vodaworld in pursuit of justice for Nkosana Makate,” a recent flyer reads.