Safaricom hits back at doctor over copyright legal dispute

A doctor claims Safaricom used his idea to launch a medical service based on video conferencing. FILE
A doctor claims Safaricom used his idea to launch a medical service based on video conferencing. FILE 

Safaricom has denied claims by a medic that he owns an idea that helped the mobile operator to launch medical services for patients to consult doctors through video conferencing.

The telco is opposed to the bid by Dedan Warui to stop it from offering the service on allegations that it copied his idea and launched the service dubbed Health Telepresence in partnership with AAR Kenya.

Safaricom claims that the concept of telecare has been in the public domain over the past decade and that it developed its video conferencing product with AAR and Cisco without reference to Dr Warui’s proposal.

The doctor says he presented Safaricom with the idea in 2011 and signed 3non-disclosure agreement last year before the operator launched the service in November. The service provides video consultation through gadgets like laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

“The concept upon which the plaintiff (Dr Warui) Med-Dispenser is built is not original and the defendant is aware that the concept has been use in India since May 2010,” said Safaricom in court documents. 

The company acknowledged being in contact with Dr Warui, adding that it opted for a separate proposal that fitted with its business strategy.

“While the digital inclusion team did give some initial consideration to the plaintiff, the Enterprise Business Unit made a decision to proceed with a separate proposal involving AAR and Cisco,” added Safaricom.

The dispute echoes the running copyright infringement row between the telco and Faulu Kenya, which claims that M-Shwari — a mobile phone saving and lending service that the operator launched in partnership with Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) — is its idea.

Dr Warui claims the concept belongs to him and he copyrighted the service under the name Med-Dispenser in March 2011, before presenting it to Safaricom for commercialisation.

He alleges in court documents that Safaricom referred him to a software development company, Bernsoft Interactive Limited, to assist in the development of the programme.

Safaricom has faced a number of copyright suits including that of the money transfer service M-Pesa. Christopher Ondieki took Safaricom to court in 2008 saying he invented M-Pesa’s upgraded technology that allows users to transfer money in US dollars and in Kenya shillings to and from bank accounts.

Musician John Maina sued Safaricom last year for using 10 of his songs as ringtones through its “Skiza” and “Surf 2 Win Promotion” without compensating him.

Simon Omondi also went to court seeking to stop Safaricom from using a popular service dubbed “Maliza Stori” that allows subscribers to buy more airtime on credit.

The Health Telepresence is a technology that uses video conferencing in provision of health services.