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Vodacom keeps ‘please call me’ inventor waiting

The “Please Call Me” service allows prepaid mobile phone subscribers to send a message for free to other users asking to be called back. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The “Please Call Me” service allows prepaid mobile phone subscribers to send a message for free to other users asking to be called back. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

South African telecom giant Vodacom is yet to pay the inventor of its ‘Please Call Me’ service over a year after the country’s Constitutional Court ordered the firm to do so.

Kenneth Makate, Vodacom’s former employee, nine years ago accused the telecom firm of launching the SMS product in 2001 and not compensating him for developing it.

Mr Makate was demanding about 15 per cent of the services’ proceeds from Vodacom, a claim which would have seen the telecom part with billions of shillings.

On April 26 last year, a South African court ordered Vodacom, which owns 35 per cent of Safaricom #ticker:SCOM, to reach a settlement package with Mr Makate within a month of the ruling.

Vodacom’s latest financial filings for the half year to September show that the company is yet to pay off Mr Makate for the service which its parent company -- UK-based Vodafone -- thereafter rolled out in several countries including Kenya.

“Negotiations with Mr Makate in accordance with the court order to determine a reasonable compensation for a business idea that led to a product known as ‘Please Call Me’ are ongoing,” Vodacom notes in its financial reports.

The “Please Call Me” service, which became quite popular locally, allows prepaid mobile phone subscribers to send a message for free to other users asking to be called back.

Mr Makate told the court that his idea was inspired by a long distance relationship he had with his girlfriend at the time. As calling was expensive, he needed something that his girlfriend would use to alert him to call.

He later presented the idea to the firm’s director of product development and management and the two verbally agreed to test the idea for commercial viability. If it worked, Mr Makate was to receive a share of revenue generated. Vodacom initially offered the service for free but later charged users a percentage.

The company, in rebuffing its former employee’s claim, argued that the invention was by its chief executive officer, leading to drawn out battle which ended last year.

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