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How to protect your IP

4 May 2016 BUSINESS


By Nomali Cele

What You Can Learn from The Please Call Me Vodacom Case

After a nearly 15-year-long battle, Nkosana Kenneth Makate won his claim against telecommunications giant Vodacom. But he did so not without exhausting all the legal arenas in the country first. Makate’s victory was handed down by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court, last month. The case had previously appeared before two other courts: The South Gauteng High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The idea that Makate coined in 2000 effectively changed how telecommunications benefit users in South Africa: with “Please Call Me” users could, without cost, send requests to other cellphone users, asking to be phoned back. Simple. Effective. But Vodacom wouldn’t give Makate credit or compensation for his brilliance even though at the beginning they had agreed to test the idea and to pay Makate should it prove viable. Seeing as practically every cell phone user in South Africa has sent a “please call me” at one point, we’d say the idea was viable.

Now that Makate has won, here’s what you can learn from the case and how to avoid the same mistakes.

Keep a record of correspondence

Email has become one of the most important communication tools of the past more than 15 years.  It’s handy for keeping track of dates and past interactions. Pitch your ideas to potential investors on emails so that you always have a record.

If you are let down by someone who makes a promise and then ‘conveniently’ forgets to honour it, or worse, steals your idea and punts it as their own, with email, you have a good record of a timeline. Using email also allows you to cash in on any agreements that the other part might be trying to back out of. While signing a contract before beginning any work is important, you shouldn’t suffer for taking a business contact’s word on important issues such as fees payable, timelines of delivery and so on.

An eyewitness doesn’t hurt

For meetings in real life, try to bring along an impartial party (such as your business mentor) to bear witness to the discussion. An eyewitness will help eliminate she said, he said, they said back and forth type of scenario should anything go wrong with the deal.

Make it official

The best way to protect your ideas and creative output (intellectual property) is by getting them registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CICP), which provides copyright, patents and trademarks, all the different ways of giving you ownership of your idea, design or creation.

Protect your ideas today.


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