Vodacom unethical in refusing to pay former employee for 'Please Call Me' idea

26 April 2016 - 14:04 By Nomahlubi Jordaan

After a battle of 15 years over compensation for his “Please Call Me” concept‚ the Constitutional Court on Tuesday vindicated former Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate.The Constitutional Court declared that Vodacom is bound by an agreement Makate concluded with the cellphone giant's then director of product development Philip Geissler in 2001.Makate had claimed to have entered into an oral agreement with Giessler over compensation for his idea.In a majority judgment‚ the Constitutional Court on Tuesday found that Makate had proved the existence of an agreement between him and Vodacom as Geisser had "onstensible authority" to enter into such an agreement with him.'Please call me' battle to be fought in highest courtFormer Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate now has to convince the Constitutional Court why he must be paid for coming up with the “Please Call Me” idea.The court set aside the 2014 Johannesburg High Court order which dismissed Makate’s demand for payment. The high court ruled that Makate had proven‚ on a balance of probabilities‚ that he had entered into an agreement with Geissler but he could not prove to the court that the agreement was binding on Vodacom.The high court also found that Makate's claim had prescribed. In terms of the Prescription Act‚ a claim prescribes after a period of three years from the date on which it arose if not claimed.The Constitutional Court ordered Vodacom to commence negotiations with Makate to determine a reasonable compensation payable to him in terms of the agreement. Negotiations must start within 30 days‚ the court said.Vodacom must pay 'Please call me' inventorFormer Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate has won his claim against cellphone giant Vodacom for coming up with the idea for the "Please call me" service.Makate had demanded 15% of the proceeds of the "Please Call Me" service from Vodacom.The court said if the parties could not agree on reasonable compensation‚ the matter must be submitted to Vodacom’s chief executive officer to determine the amount payable to Makate within a reasonable time.In his judgment‚ Justice Chris Jafta found that Vodacom did not act as "expected from an ethical corporate identity" when it refused to compensate Makate."Vodacom associated itself with the dishonourable conduct of its former CEO‚ Mr [Alan] Knott-Craig and his colleague‚ Mr Geissler. This leaves a sour taste in the mouth‚" Jafta said."Please Call Me" Inventor: Vodacom not off the hookNkosana Makate, the inventor of the "Please Call Me" cellphone SMS service, just won't give up.He said the stance Vodacom had taken in litigation was unfortunate and was not consistent with what was expected of a company that “heaped praises on [Makate] for his brilliant idea on which its 'Please Call Me' service was constructed”.“The service had become so popular and profitable that revenue in huge sums of money was generated‚ for Vodacom to smile all the way to the bank. Yet it did not compensate the applicant even with a penny for his idea. No smile was brought to his face for his innovation‚” Jafta said.Vodacom had contended during arguments that the “Please Call Me" idea generated billions of rands in revenue‚ but they denied that it was Makate’s idea.The court found that Makate's claim had not prescribed.The “Please Call Me” service‚ introduced by Vodacom in February 2001‚ allows prepaid cell phone users to send a message for free to other users asking to be called back.CCT 52-15 Kenneth Nkosana Makate v Vodacom (PTY) LimitedVoda

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.