Vodacom might be forced to cough out USD 300 million to Nkosana Makate, its employee who just won a ruling at South Africa’s highest court that he invented ‘Please Call Me’ and he ought to be compensated.
The case has been dragging for over nine years. Makate had lost in three lower courts who gave judgement in ruling of Vodacom. Previous rulings concluded that Makate only had a verbal agreement with Philip Geissler, the head of product development back in 2001. Philip was said not to be authorised to speak for the company.
However the supreme court found Vodacom’s argument as weak and riddled with false claims. According to Fin24, the court said in its ruling”.
“Despite the product being a success, Vodacom did not negotiate compensation for the use of the applicant’s idea.”
And the judgment had harsh words for former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig and its ex-head of product development Philip Geissler.
“Instead, as the High Court later held, Messrs Knott-Craig, Vodacom’s CEO, and Geissler created a false narrative pertaining to the origin of the idea on which the ‘Please Call Me’ product was based,” said the Constitutional Court judgment.
“They dishonestly credited Mr Knott-Craig with the idea and this lie was perpetuated in the latter’s autobiography,” said the judgment, referring to the book ‘Second is Nothing’.
The court highlighted how Geissler, responding to an email from Knott-Craig, said on December 25 2009 that him and Knott-Craig came up with the idea. The email exchange happened after media had queried the correctness of the story.
But the Constitutional Court said Geissler’s response in 2009 “contradicted his earlier email of 9 February 2001 which was addressed to staff at Vodacom.”
In the email, Geissler said “Kenneth Makate from our Finance Department came up with this idea a few months ago and brought it to the Product Development Division. We wish to thank Kenneth for bringing his idea to our attention.”
The Constitutional Court further said that Vodacom’s managing director further acknowledged Makate for the idea in a newsletter published in March 2001.
“Despite these facts, Messrs Knott-Craig and Geissler later claimed that it was the CEO’s idea,” said the judgment.
“This untrue story appears to have been part of a stratagem to deny the applicant compensation for the idea.
“Vodacom first accused him of having stolen the idea from MTN, its competitor,” said the judgment.
The court however concluded that “Mr Geissler had ostensible authority to conclude a contract with Mr Makate and Vodacom is estoppedfrom denying that authority. It is bound by the contract Mr Geissler concluded on its behalf“
The company has not issued any official statement except that it is studying the details of the ruling.
If Makate gets the full amount, which is about USD 300 million, he will be the richest black tech inventor in Africa.