Judgement soon expected for Please Call Me case

Questions on a verbal agreement, compensation and authority characterised closing arguments for the Vodacom Please Call Me case which may soon draw to a close.

Nkosana Makate is suing the telecommunications giant for the Please Call Me service, which he claims he invented and has dragged former CEO Alan Knott-Craig to court.

On Tuesday at the South Gauteng High Court closing arguments were heard for the 13-year-old intellectual property dispute between Makate and Vodacom.

Senior counsel for Vodacom Fanie Cilliers questioned Makate’s claim that he had a verbal agreement for compensation with former executive for product development Philip Geissler.

Makate, an accountant at the time, claims that he pitched the idea to Geissler and was promised a meeting for compensation once the idea was tested and successfully launched.

Please Call Me enables mobile users to send free messages for the recipient to call back.

However, Cilliers said nobody at Vodacom knew about an agreement between Makate and Geissler, as Makate ‘’did not get authority and approval for compensation’’.

Cilliers further refuted Makate’s version of compensation by saying Geissler did not have authority to award employees compensation for ideas without the CEOs and boards knowledge.

‘’The board can’t ratify something they are not aware of. There is no reference to pay the plaintiff anything or reward. No reference to a share of revenue. No reference to company policy for an employee to be paid. Not even reference by the board’’.

He also said Makate failed to bring witnesses to prove the verbal agreement and thus he can’t ‘’build a case on ill-founded evidence’’.

It was unlikely that Vodacom goes into joint ventures for innovation with employees and Makate did not contribute to the technical development of the idea, Cilliers argued.

‘’This case is not about who contributed the idea, but whether there was a contract between the plaintiff and defendant, and terms of agreement,’’ he told the court.

Senior counsel for Makate, Cedric Puckrin argued that Geissler was the authority when it came to product development and that Makate expected to make money from the innovation.

He also said Geissler was a board member of Vodacom, raising questions about whether board members knew about the Please Call Me service and details of compensation.

To bolster his argument, Puckrin said there were emails circulated between Makate and Geissler in the company. The emails are about Geissler promising to speak to Knott-Craig about compensation.

‘’There was no negotiation. Geissler never intended to negotiate. It never went to a phase of good faith negotiation…There is overwhelming evidence that Makate was deprived the opportunity to negotiate compensation. He was cheated’’, Puckrin told the court.

Makate’s bid is to have Vodacom compensate him 15% of total revenue made from the innovation since its inception.

The company bankrolling Makate’s case Sterling Rand in a separate matter has been dragged to the centre of the case.  Vodacom has applied for Sterling Rand to pay for its legal fees, should the case be in favour of Vodacom.

Judge Phillip Coppin said Sterling Rand must be given sufficient time to respond to the matter.

If the case is in Makate’s favour, Sterling-rand will have a 40% cut of his winnings.

Judgement was reserved.

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Witsie sues Vodacom over Please Call Me, September 23, 2013

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