Vodafone Unit Ordered to Pay Ex-Worker for `Please Call Me'

  • Vodacom must compensate man after eight-year legal battle
  • South Africa's 'Please Call Me' gives customers free texts

Vodacom Group Ltd., the South African unit of Vodafone Group Plc, must pay a former employee for inventing a popular calling service after earlier claiming an ex-chief executive officer was responsible, according to a Constitutional Court ruling.

Kenneth Makate, 39, suggested the idea behind ‘Please Call Me’ to Vodacom’s product-development team when he was a member the finance division in 2000, and the concept was immediately taken up, the Johannesburg court judgment shows. About 140,000 customers made use of the service on its first day in operation, and it “continues to be a huge success,” according to court documents. Vodacom former CEO Alan Knott-Craig, who left in 2008, was wrongly credited with the innovation, the ruling showed.

“We are aware of the Constitutional Court ruling and are currently studying its contents,” Vodacom spokesman Byron Kennedy said by e-mail.

Makate’s victory comes eight years after he started High Court proceedings against Vodacom to claim credit and financial compensation for the service, which allows customers with no balance on their mobile phones to alert someone for free with the SMS message: “Please Call Me.” The product is worth “billions of rands for Vodacom,” the court documents show. The court that eventually ruled in Makate’s favor is South Africa’s most senior court, where the country’s constitution was approved two years after the first all-race elections in 1994.

A 2001 development plan for ‘Please Call Me’ said Vodacom could make between 239,000 rand ($16,500) and 322,500 rand a day from people using the service. Makate initially proposed a 15 percent share of profits, according to the court papers.

The company has 30 days to start compensation negotiations with Makate, the court ruled. Vodacom traded 0.9 percent higher at 167.96 rand as of 2:47 p.m. in Johannesburg.

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