The Constitutional Court recently handed down judgment in the case concerning the compensation for the use of the idea of developing the Please Call Me messaging system for Vodacom, which resulted in generating billions of rands. Mr. Makate –who claims he developed the mechanism – was a trainee accountant employed by Vodacom during 2000 when he was involved in a long-distance relationship with a student. The couple experienced communication difficulties because his girlfriend was unable to afford airtime in order to make telephone calls to him. As a result, he developed the idea of the Please Call Me messaging system and approached Vodacom’s Director of Product Development and Management and the two entered into a verbal agreement whereby Vodacom would use the idea on a trial basis to establish commercial viability and if it proved to be so, then Mr. Makate would be paid a share of the proceeds.
Mr Makate was unsuccessful in the High Court with his claim based on the verbal agreement and after both the trial Court and the SCA refused to grant him leave to appeal he approached the Constitutional Court. The CC ordered Vodacom to compensate Mr. Makate for using his idea, finding that Vodacom’s Director of Product Development and Management had the apparent authority to bind Vodacom in the verbal agreement.
In light of this judgment, companies need to ensure that in protecting their intellectual property assets that they regulate the creation and ownership thereof by having proper internal policies and procedures in place.