Please Call Me and pay up

23 July 2013 - 03:01 By JAN BORNMAN
A cell phone. File picture
A cell phone. File picture

The ongoing battle between Vodacom and a former employee about who invented the popular Please Call Me service was back in court yesterday.

The matter dates back to 2000, when then Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate claimed he had first had the idea behind the service, which subsequently generated much income for Vodacom.

In 2008, Makate instituted proceedings against his former employer, claiming a portion of the revenue from the service.

Makate's lawyer, advocate Cedric Puckrin SC, told the Johannesburg High Court that Makate had come up with the Please Call Me service when he realised that the system could be "rigged" in such a way that a person with no airtime could send a message to another person with airtime.

"It was of paramount importance, for [Makate] at least that the outgoing message had to be free because you defeated the purpose by levying a charge," he said.

Puckrin said Makate proposed the idea to his superior at the time, Lazarus Muchenje, whom he considered to be a mentor.

According to Puckrin, the two discussed a possible incentive if the idea was implemented.

Later, Makate received an e-mail from the then head of product development, Philip Geissler, in which he allegedly said: "As for rewards, all staff are expected to assist the company. As for you. I will speak to Alan [Knott-Craig, then CEO of Vodacom]. You have my word."

This was followed by an e-mail to all Vodacom staff congratulating Makate for developing the idea. According to Puckrin, an excerpt from the e-mail read: "[Nkosana] Makate of our finance department came up with this idea a few months ago. We would like to thank him."

However, Vodacom has denied that Makate was entitled to any compensation. It has previously said Makate did not invent the application and, even if he did, his contract of employment stated that "any invention while employed by Vodacom belongs to Vodacom".

The matter continues today.