SME series: Protect your intellectual property

07 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
SME series: Protect your intellectual property Arthur Marara

eBusiness Weekly

Arthur Marara

“Please call me back”

Sounds familiar? It does for many people and at one point in time was rampantly abused in Zimbabwe.

Mr Kenneth Nkosana Makate, a former employee of Vodacom (Pty) Limited (Vodacom). During 2000 he was employed by Vodacom as a trainee accountant. In November 2000 he was involved in a long distance relationship with a student who later became his wife.

They experienced communication difficulties, owing mainly to the fact that his girlfriend could not afford to buy airtime for purposes of making telephone calls to him. As a result the applicant was the one who initiated their telephone calls.

Both of them were familiar with the practice in terms of which a cellphone user with low airtime would dial the number of another cellphone user and allow the cellphone to ring twice before cancelling the call.

But for the message to be conveyed the one who initiated the call had to have some airtime and, therefore, the practice did not resolve the couple’s communication difficulty.

Meanwhile Makate came up with an idea in terms of which the cellphone user who has no airtime would be able to send the request to the other cellphone user who has airtime to call the former.

The idea was reduced to writing and he consulted his superior and mentor at Vodacom for advice on how he could sell it to any of the cellphone service providers, including Vodacom. His mentor, Mr Lazarus Muchenje advised him to speak to the Director of Product Development and Management, Mr Philip Geissler.

Makate and Mr Geissler negotiated and agreed that Vodacom would use the his idea to develop a new product which would be put on trial for commercial viability. If the product was successful then he would be paid a share in the revenue generated by it.

Although Makate had indicated that he wanted 15 percent of the revenue, the parties deferred their negotiations on the amount to be paid to the applicant for a later date. However, they agreed that in the event of them failing to agree on the amount, Vodacom’s chief executive officer would determine the amount.

Based on Makate’s idea Vodacom developed a new product which was called, “Please Call Me”. This product enabled a cellphone user with no airtime to send a message to the other cellphone user, asking her to call him.

The new product elicited excitement at Vodacom and the inventor of the idea on which it was built was praised for his innovative thinking. Vodacom’s internal newsletter described the applicant’s idea in these terms:

“Vodacom has launched a new product called ‘Call Me’, thanks to Kenneth Makate from our finance department. Kenneth suggested the service to the product development team, which immediately took up the idea. ‘Call Me’ is a world first and allows Vodago prepaid users to send a free text message to other Vodacom customers requesting that they call them back. The main aim of this product is to allow Vodacom users who do not have balances on their accounts to keep in touch with their families and loved ones.”

Interestingly, Makate is yet to be paid for his innovation. Vodacom at the time of writing this article is fighting an order to pay billions to Makate. Bloomberg Business reports that Vodacom was ordered to pay between R29 billion (US$1,5 billion) and R55 billion (US$2,9 billion) for his “Please Call Me” idea.

Makate stands to be a billionaire from his intellectual property. In June 2010, Telecel introduced “Call me Back”. All the major networks in Zimbabwe also introduced this facility.

The priority of intellectual property

In the fiercely competitive landscape of modern business, the protection of intellectual property rights has become a cornerstone for small businesses striving to secure their innovations, brand identity, and creative works from unauthorised exploitation by competitors.

In a world where innovation and originality are key drivers of success, the safeguarding of trademarks, copyrights, and patents is not just a legal necessity but a strategic imperative for companies looking to establish a strong foundation for growth, differentiation, and longevity in the marketplace.

In this article, we delve into the critical importance of protecting intellectual property for small businesses, exploring how trademarks, copyrights, and patents serve as invaluable tools for preserving the integrity, value, and competitive edge of innovative enterprises.

To be continued next week . . .

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The material contained in this post is set out in good faith for general guidance in the spirit of raising legal awareness on topical interests that affect most people on a daily basis. They are not meant to create an attorney-client relationship or constitute solicitation. No liability can be accepted for loss or expense incurred as a result of relying in particular circumstances on statements made in the post. Laws and regulations are complex and liable to change, and readers should check the current position with the relevant authorities before making personal arrangements.

Arthur Marara is a practising Attorney.| Bestselling Author |. Human Capital Trainer|. Business Speaker |. Thought Leader |. Law Lecturer |. Consultant |. Coach |. Legal Proctor (UZ). He has vast experience in employment law and has worked with several corporates, and organisations. He is also a notary public and conveyancer. He is passionate about promoting legal awareness and access to justice. He writes in his personal capacity. You can follow him on social media (Facebook Attorney Arthur Marara), or WhatsApp him on +263780055152 or email [email protected]. <mailto:[email protected].>

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