Intellectual Property in the Employment Context: South African High Court Dismisses “Please Call Me” Case Against Vodacom

Vodacom Tower, Johannesburg RSA - by finepixtrix

Recently, the much-awaited judgment in the case of Makate v Vodacom (Pty) Limited [2014] ZAGPJHC was delivered by the South African High Court in Johannesburg. The case revolves around the “Please Call Me” (PCM) service whereby Vodacom allowed its subscribers to send FREE messages to anyone on all South African networks, asking them to call you. The idea behind this nifty service come from a former Vodacom trainee accountant Nkosana Makate who went to court seeking compensation from the telecommunications giant for the idea.

The thrust of Makate’s case was to enforce against Vodacom an oral agreement in terms of which the Vodacom (which was ostensibly represented by Geissler, as Makate claims) would take and test the idea and if it was successful, pay Makate an amount to be negotiated between by both parties, but which represented a share of the revenue generated by the product that was to be developed based on the idea.
The court, in its judgment, was prepared to accept an agreement with Geissler on the terms alleged by Makate had been concluded. However, the court ultimately held that Vodacom was not bound by the agreement entered into by Geissler since Makate had not shown that Vodacom made any representations as to Geissler’s authority to represent Vodacom in conclude the agreement or, even if it had, that the representations were such that Makate should reasonably have acted upon them. The court also found that Makate’s claim was time barred i.e. the debt claimed by Makate had prescribed in terms of the South African Prescription Act. This blogpost considers several intellectual property (IP) issues related to this case and possible lessons for Kenyans who come up with creative and innovative ideas within the course of employment.

Read the full article here.

Kenyan Cattle Herdsboy Seeks Petty Patent Protection for “Lion Lights” Invention

turere-1-600x397 by WildlifeDirect

For those who may not know, IPKenya’s friend Dr Isaac Rutenberg is the voice behind a series of blog articles over at the Afro-IP blog dubbed “Diary of A Patent Lawyer in Kenya”. In his latest entry, he explains that he was “helping a 14-year old Kenyan attempt to secure IP rights after he had designed a system useful in rearing domestic livestock as well as in wildlife conservation.” He further discloses: “At our inventor’s [the 14-year old Kenyan’s] request, and with the guidance of a local wildlife conservation group, we prepared and filed a Utility Model Certificate application.”

This blogger is strongly convinced that the Utility Model (UM) application in question is in respect of the “Lion Lights” invention by young Richard Turere and supported by WildlifeDirect, in particular CEO, Dr. Paula Kahumbu.

Earlier this year, the Daily Nation published a story about a 13 year old boy Richard Turere: “the young Maasai boy who figured out how to scare off lions by irritating them with flash lights.” According to WildlifeDirect, a local wildlife conservation group, Turere was discovered while the group was working on a project to find new ways to reduce human lion conflict in the Kitengela area just south of the Nairobi National Park in Kenya.

Turere’s invention was born out of a necessity to protect his family’s cattle herd from carnivorous predators, especially lions since they lived right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. Turere is said to have used his knowledge of lions’ fear of flashing lights to devise an automated lighting system made up of torch bulbs, a box, switches, an old car battery and a solar panel. According to reports, Turere’s lights are “designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight”.

Lion Lights Invention Richard Turere Wildlife Direct

It is reported that “since Turere rigged up his “Lion Lights,” his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts, to the great delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbours.” This invention has become very popular and “around 75 “Lion Light” systems have so far been rigged up around Kenya”. With the support of WildlifeDirect, Turere has presented his invention at the well known TED Conference in 2013 and obtained a scholarship to one of Kenya’s top private preparatory schools.

Comment:

Right off the bat, this blogger was pleased with some of the the comments in the original Daily Nation story about Lion Lights where a couple of ordinary Kenyans wondered whether Turere had obtained patent protection for his invention.

Lion Lights Invention DN comments

These comments demonstrate an increased awareness of intellectual property, its value and the importance of securing IP rights.

Secondly, I salute Dr Rutenberg and his team over at CIPIT for the good work they are doing in helping Kenyans like Turere to identify, understand, protect and promote their IP rights using the various IP systems available in Kenya.

Intellectual Property and Employment: Did Vodacom South Africa “Steal” Please Call Me From Ex-Employee?

Vodacom Tower, Johannesburg RSA - by finepixtrix

Many years ago, this blogger landed in South Africa as a wide-eyed 20-something law student. With a meager budget to survive on, many of my classmates and South African friends may have forgiven me for making abundant use of PCM. PCM is short for “Please Call Me”, a revolutionary service whereby Vodacom allowed its subscribers to send FREE messages to anyone on all South African networks, asking them to call you. PCM was a great way of getting in touch when you didn’t have any airtime to make calls or send SMSs. It suffices to say that this nifty PCM function really came in handy in cases of emergencies.

Presently, media reports indicate that Vodacom is embroiled in a David-vs-Goliath law suit with a former employee who claims that he came up with the idea of PCM and is now seeking compensation from the telecommunications giant. The ex-employee’s name is Nkosana Makate and from various media reports, this is what we know so far.

Read the rest of this article here.