Safaricom Wins Legal Battle for M-Pesa 1 Tap

The case of Jonathan Murangiri Gikabu claiming that Safaricom had stolen his idea to launch M-Pesa payments using a card tap, wristband or a phone sticker has been dismissed by Kenya’s High Court judge Grace Nzioka.

The judge says that Gikabu had failed to present enough evidence that Safaricom seized the idea from him. Gikabu had claimed that M-Pesa 1 Tap was his brainchild, after selling the idea to Safaricom in 2014.

Safaricom would have had to pay Gikabu a settlement of $1.9-million if found to have stolen the idea, according to Business Daily Africa.

M-Pesa 1 Tap is a faster way for users to pay for products and services by tapping a sticker on their phones, branded wristbands or cards without having to follow any of the eight prerequisite steps to transfer cash to merchants.

“It is not a matter of perception or morality. Of course, it may be unprofessional to do so or morally wrong. But from the legal point of view, the Plaintiff (Gikabu) bore the burden to prove the same,” Nzioka said.

Further, Nzioka said that it was possible that Safaricom has indeed incorporated Gikabu’s components in its products, but there was a need to provide evidence on Gikabu’s part. Which, according to the judge, he failed to do adequately.

A $1.9-Million Suit

Gikabu had launched a suit against the telecommunications company after, he says, he shared confidential information with Safaricom in 2014 only for the provider to use his ideas in launching an NFC (Near Field Communication) mobile payment system for non-smartphones – M-Pesa 1 Tap.

According to the plaintiff, Gikabu spent $865-thousand on the innovation and hoped to make, at least, $920-thousand back from it. For the breach, Gikabu wanted an additional $920-thousand, making his total claim around $1.9-million (taking into account conversion rates from Kenyan shillings to US dollars for this publication’s sake).

Safaricom denied his claims, saying that similar technologies had already been in the market and used by Card Planet, Buy-More and Beba Pay in the past. Safaricom claims it even used the technology itself in the past through a product called ‘My 1963‘, a form of cashless fare payment cards for public transport in Kenya.

The telecom, the largest in the region, also says that the M-Pesa 1 tap solution contains proprietary and innovative authentication process that has no link to Gikabu’s innovation.

Furthermore, it said the technology around M-Pesa 1 Tap was freely available as an industry standard and that no-one could legally claim to own it.

By Luis Monzon
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