Why MTN didn't enforce its 'please call me' patent - TechCentral

Why MTN didn’t enforce its ‘please call me’ patent

It’s now well known that MTN South Africa patented a “please call me”-type service in the early 2000s, beating rival Vodacom to the punch.

The idea was the brainchild of an MTN contractor at the time, Ari Kahn, who has said since then that former Vodacom employee Nkosana Makate doesn’t deserve a cent from South Africa’s biggest cellular operator for coming up with a similar service.

After a protracted legal battle, the constitutional court handed down a judgment in which it said Makate deserved compensation (reversing the judgments of the lower courts), ordering the parties to enter into good-faith negotiations to determine a reasonable settlement amount. If the parties couldn’t agree, it was then left up to Vodacom’s group CEO, currently Shameel Joosub, to exercise his mind and determine a reasonable amount. Joosub did this and in early January tabled a final settlement offer to Makate — reportedly R49-million. Makate rejected this, calling the settlement amount an insult, and vowing to go back to court to challenge it.

MTN has now, for the first time, explained why it didn’t challenge Vodacom’s launch of a “please call me” service.
Company spokeswoman Jacqui O’Sullivan said that at the time — the early 2000s — the mobile telecommunications sector in South Africa was still “very new”.

“We were focused on developing the category and driving mass participation by South Africans,” O’Sullivan said. “Patent law is extremely complex and MTN was not inclined to enter into a drawn-out litigation on this service that simply sought to keep South Africans in contact.”

She said MTN made this decision 18 years ago and is “not in any way involved in the current dispute related to the “please call me” issue between Makate and Vodacom.

Though the company wrote to Vodacom at the time to challenge the launch of the callback notification service, it eventually decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. It subsequently allowed its patent to lapse. — (c) 2019 NewsCentral Media

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