A date has been set for the court showdown between JSE-listed Reunert and John Holdsworth and his new company, mobile virtual network operator AppChat. However, the matter will only be heard in early August, more than two months after the parties had expected they would square off in front of a high court judge.
Reunert has accused Holdsworth, a former CEO of ECN Telecommunications (now Nashua ECN and a subsidiary of Reunert), of breaching a restraint-of-trade agreement, of soliciting ECN staff unlawfully and of using his knowledge of the company’s product development plans to benefit AppChat.
Nashua ECN MD Andy Openshaw says the deputy judge-president informed the parties that no judge was available to hear the matter before the courts begin their annual six-week recess over June and July. As a result, the matter will now only be heard in the high court in Pretoria on 2 and 3 August. It had been expected that the court would hear the matter this week.
Holdsworth’s restraint with ECN expires at the end of July, but Openshaw says that because the matter is not only about his restraint but also about the alleged “solicitation of staff” and other issues, ECN will press on with the legal action. “The [August] decision just drags out the case, which is unfortunate,” Openshaw says.
However, Holdsworth says that given that his restraint runs out at the end of July, it makes “any relief sought by Reunert for the most part academic”.
“Reunert has already stated in its founding affidavit that any ‘damages suffered by it, will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify’,” Holdsworth says. “I think what is going on here is very simple to work out, but I will let others arrive at the obvious conclusion.”
In its founding affidavit, Reunert argues it wants to protect the intellectual property it paid for when it bought ECN for R172m in 2011. A large part of the purchase value was made up of goodwill, paid over and above the company’s net asset value at the time of the acquisition.
Reunert has accused Holdsworth of “engaging in a concerted course of corporate sabotage” and of luring away key skills from ECN to join AppChat. Openshaw says in Reunert’s founding affidavit that Holdsworth was “deliberately plotting to take steps to sabotage the business of Nashua ECN”.
Holdsworth has been accused of trying to undermine ECN’s efforts to launch a mobile voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony solution, of which it alleges he had prior knowledge.
However, Holdsworth hit back last month in an answering affidavit in which he accused Reunert of using the lawsuit as an attempt to “prevent fair competition and entrench itself in the market”. He also denied he was in breach of the restraint-of-trade agreement, saying AppChat’s technology and business model were “fundamentally different” to ECN’s. He also said he had no prior knowledge of ECN’s mobile VoIP product plans.
“Given the fact that Nashua ECN does not have any mobile subscribers on its network, has never commercially connected a single mobile-originated telephone call and has used public-domain open-source software to build its so-called ‘mobile VoIP application’, it is unclear, beyond the elimination of a potential competitor, exactly what interests Reunert is trying to protect by restricting AppChat from entering the mobile market.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media
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