Vodacom has been told to delay full payment to a one time employee Nkosana Makate who invented Please Call Me‚ pending the outcome of a dispute between the person and the company that helped fund his eight-year legal battle.
The Johannesburg-based wireless operator was told by Makate’s financial back bone, Sterling Rand, to withhold at least 50% of any settlement it owed him. This was stated in a letter sent on behalf of Sterling Rand by lawyers Fairbridges Wertheim Becker.
“We can confirm that we have received the … request and that our focus is on complying with the order of the Constitutional Court‚ which requires us to negotiate in good faith with Mr Makate. We are committed to a swift resolution in line with the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
We have already initiated a process for negotiating a reasonable compensation for Mr Makate and the matter is being dealt with as a priority‚” said Byron Kennedy‚ Vodacom spokesperson.
Sterling Rand’s request was based on its concern over the ‘Please Call Me’ inventor and his lawyers, Stemela & Lubbe’s agreement which will exclude the company.
The dispute comes a month after South Africa’s highest court ruled that Vodacom must compensate Makate for the “Please Call Me” idea, which allows customers with no balance on their mobile phones to alert someone with a free text message.
Vodacom’s former chief executive Alan Knott-Craig had been wrongly credited with the innovation, the Constitutional Court ruling showed.
Makate expected to be entitled to as much as R10.5-billion, with Sterling Rand taking nearly half the amount for taking on the funding risk.
Makate had agreed that the litigation financiers must give written consent to any settlement reached, unless it exceeded R650-million. But if Vodacom refuses to agree to Sterling Rand’s request‚ an urgent application will be asked for from the courts‚ according to the letter dated May 23.