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Please don’t call me: Vodacom battle gets messy

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The battle as to who exactly created the much-used ‘Please Call Me’ function heated up in South Africa’s South Gauteng High Court this week. Former employee Nkosana Makete has claimed ownership of the service, while former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig claims he is responsible.

Former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig (image: Daily Maverick)
Former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig (Image source: Daily Maverick)

In the main suit, Makete is seeking financial compensation from Vodacom, which Knott-Craig refutes. In his biography Second is Nothing, Knott-Craig wrote that the idea came to him while standing on his balcony and witnessing two security guards trying to communicate with each other.

“He said one guard phoned the other but that the other did not pick up the phone. He instead looked in the direction of the caller. That was when he realised they were using the “missed call” method to communicate. That was when the Please Call Me idea hit him and a few minutes later he was in his office with senior managers discussing its implementation,” wrote The New Age.

While on the stand as the main witness, Knott-Craig was grilled by Makete’s lawyer Cedric Puckrin, who asked him about his claim – to which Knott-Craig denied taking credit for.

“That is not how I read it. I don’t know but it appears that when (Philip) Geissler (executive of product development at Vodacom) brought this idea to me, it had already been pitched to him by someone else. That is a possibility. If anyone had told me about Makete, I would not have ignored it, I would have pursued it.”

According to an oral agreement between Geissler and Makete, the former said that he will facilitate remuneration for Makete once the idea has been formally pitched to Vodacom and after all the technical and commercial aspects were in place.

According to Business Report “this agreement was made despite the fact that Vodacom did not compensate employees for their ideas above normal remuneration. Makate is seeking to compel Vodacom to discuss reasonable compensation”.

In the protracted battle over ownership, mobile operator MTN has also in the past laid claim to the invention of the service – which was also mention in the current lawsuit.

Puckrin added that Geissler “falsely informed him (Makate) that MTN was suing the defendant (Vodacom) because the plaintiff (Makate) had allegedly stolen their idea.”

“The plaintiff acted upon such fraudulent representations by not vindicating his rights within a reasonable period and confirming that Knott-Craig was the innovator of ‘Please Call Me’,” Puckrin continued.

But both Vodacom and Knott-Craig are adamant that Makate is not entitled to any compensation, and the individuals who entered into any agreements with him were not authorised to do so.

“They were very well aware of delegations of authority. If Makate had come straight to me, we would not be sitting here,” Knott-Craig said.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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