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Kenyan IT firm refers Google row to lawyers

Kenya-based online business directory firm —Mocality — has referred its dispute with Google to its legal office in South Africa, raising the spectre of the search giant being sued for claiming to be in partnership with the company.   Photo/REUTERS
Kenya-based online business directory firm —Mocality — has referred its dispute with Google to its legal office in South Africa, raising the spectre of the search giant being sued for claiming to be in partnership with the company. Photo/REUTERS 

Kenya-based online business directory firm —Mocality — has referred its dispute with Google to its legal office in South Africa, raising the spectre of the search giant being sued for claiming to be in partnership with the company.

Mocality last Friday accused Google of misrepresentation by approaching its online clients with the promise of creating their Web sites at a cost of Sh20,000 and that it was working with the Kenyan firm. The accusation prompted Google’s vice president for product and engineering to apologise to the business directory firm and promise to take action on its staff for the misrepresentation.

Yesterday, Mocality said it had referred the matter to the legal team of South Africa media giant Naspers—leading local lawyers to believe that Mocality is preparing for a legal battle with Google.

“I cannot preempt what step we will take as the matter is now being handled by our legal team in South Africa,” said Joshua Mwaniki, the country manager for business the directory company.

He added that heart of the dispute is not Google searching for information on Mocality’s data base, but the fraudulently soliciting for business from its clients with claims that the twin IT firms are partners.

“What they were trying to do is make our business look bad and that is what we are taking exception to,” said Mr Mwaniki. 

Mocality allows businesses to list their contacts on its website and send 400 short messages on their business and products for free and then the charge Sh3 for every extra message of about 140 words.

“What Mocality is doing is referred to us passing off in common law and it signals an intention to seek an injunction or damages,” said James Kamau, the managing partner at Iseme Kamau and Maema Advocates—a local legal firm with expertise on intellectual property law.

For Google, the dispute—if it moves to court—will join a long list of legal battles the giant search engine is facing with.companies such as Apple and Microsoft and Oracle over its Android platform.

“We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality,” said Google’s Nelson Mattos, Vice-President for Product and Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets in response to the complaints raised by Mocality in its blog post.

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