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Tuesday, 06 February 2024 19:11

SCA orders Vodacom to make a new offer to "Please Call Me" inventor Makate.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Vodacom suffered another court defeat in its protracted legal battle with "Please Call Me" inventor Nkosana Makate when the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein ordered the mobile operator to make a new offer.

The court ruled that mobile operator must pay Makate between 5% and 7.5% of the total voice revenue its Please Call Me product generated over 18 years, plus interest.

Based on the wording in the ruling, the 18-year period was determined from March 2001 to 9 January 2019 — the date Vodacom first offered to compensate Makate for his idea to the tune of R47 million.

The dispute between Makate and Vodacom dates back to 2007 when he first sent letters of demand claiming he was promised compensation as the inventor of Please Call Me. He launched legal action in 2008.

Makate, a Vodacom finance manager at the time, pitched his idea of a method to "buzz" someone else's phone without airtime to a superior on 21 November 2000.

His idea was ultimately developed into Please Call Me, which launched on the Vodacom network in 2001.

While Makate didn't play a role in the development of the product (and there's compelling evidence indicating Vodacom was actually the original innovator of the "Call Me" concept), his manager had guaranteed him compensation.

The case eventually went to the Constitutional Court, which ordered Vodacom and Makate's teams to negotiate reasonable remuneration amicably, with Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub tasked with breaking any deadlock.

Joosub proposed a figure of R47 million, which Makate promptly contested and took to the High Court. The High Court sided with Makate, propelling Vodacom to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The final ruling from the Supreme Court hinged on the interpretation of the Constitutional Court order and whether the High Court was correct in its decision, especially regarding its directive to the CEO.

A statement from the Supreme Court alongside the ruling summarized that the two parties had a dispute over the period for which compensation should be calculated. Vodacom suggested a five-year term, rather than its standard three-year contracts. However, Makate's lawyers contended that assuming Vodacom would have cancelled an assumed contract with Makate after five years was implausible. They proposed compensation should be calculated over a 20-year span.

The SCA stated, "this Court found that the aforementioned must be considered in the context of the duration of the agreement between Makate and the applicant. It would have been an un-businesslike and an unreasonable decision by the CEO not to have extended the contract it made with Makate. Therefore, this Court determined that the valuation was flawed and inequitable."

In response to a request for comment, Vodacom said, "We acknowledge the recent judgment handed down by the Supreme Court of Appeal regarding the Please Call Me matter. We are carefully studying its contents and will respond in due course."