Johannesburg - South Africa’s highest legal authority, the Constitutional Court, has ruled that Vodacom must compensate the inventor of the Please Call Me SMS product.
The court on Tuesday morning found Vodacom was bound by an agreement with Kenneth Nkosana Makate who has said he invented the Please Call Me concept.
Makate conceived the Please Call Me concept in November 2000 and he approached Vodacom's director and head of product development at the time, Philip Geissler, about the idea, according to a summary from the Constitutional Court judgment.
Geissler and Makate then reached an oral agreement that Vodacom would experiment with the idea.
"If it proved commercially viable, Mr Makate would be paid a share of proceeds from the product subject to terms to be negotiated between him and Mr Geissler. Vodacom implemented the idea in March 2001," reads the summary of the Constitutional Court judgment.
"Given Mr Geissler’s position at Vodacom; the organisational structure within which he exercised his power; and his role in the process which had to be followed before a new product could be introduced at Vodacom, the judgment held that Mr Geissler had ostensible authority to bind Vodacom.
"The consequence was that Mr Geissler had ostensible authority to conclude a contract with Mr Makate and Vodacom was estopped from denying that authority. It was bound by the contract Mr Geissler concluded on its behalf," the summary of the judgment noted.
The court has ruled that leave to appeal regarding the case is granted and that the application is upheld with costs. The court has further ordered Vodacom to commence negotiations with Makate within 30 days.
It's unclear how much Makate could earn from the idea but the court, in its judgment, said that "it is common cause that this product has generated revenue amounting to billions of rands".
The judgment marks the high-point of a years-long legal battle between Makate and Vodacom over Please Call Me.
The South Gauteng High Court had previously found that while an agreement between Vodacom and Makate existed, the latter had not proved that Geissler had authority for such a binding agreement.
The High Court previously also found that Makate should have filed a claim three years after the incident. Makate’s first court bid on the matter occurred in 2008.
Meanwhile, Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said: "We are aware of the Constitutional Court ruling and are currently studying its contents.