True Please Call Me inventor says Makate should only get one cent

Legal expert Ari Kahn, who invented and patented Please Call Me on behalf of MTN, says Kenneth Nkosana Makate is not the originator of the service and deserves no more than one cent.

Last week, Kahn wrote a letter to Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub, highlighting that Makate did not propose Please Call Me to Vodacom.

Instead, on 20 November 2000, he proposed “Buzz” to Vodacom– a service to allow a user without airtime to dial a phone number and give a “missed call”.

Makate’s proposal was not technically possible since a call could only mature to a ringing state if the user had credit.

Consequently, the proposal did not progress beyond an idea. Even skilled engineers at Vodacom could not reduce it to practice, and inventions are required by law to be reduced to practice.

Kahn said Makate’s proposal was completely different from the Please Call Me service which Vodacom implemented.

“It did not even remotely resemble the Please Call Me messaging system which Vodacom launched,” said Kahn.

It raises the question of who really invented the Please Call Me service Vodacom launched on 15 March 2001.

The answer is Ari Kahn. On 15 November 2000, a week before Makate proposed Buzz, Kahn conceived the Please Call Me idea.

Kahn briefed patent attorneys on 16 November to prepare a patent application for filing for the Please Call Me service.

After MTN successfully filed for IP protection on 22 January 2001, it launched its “Call Me” service on 23 January 2001 – seven weeks before Vodacom.

MTN’s “Call Me” worked exceptionally well, and millions of users sent messages over the MTN network during the first few weeks.

MTN Call Me Patent Application
MTN Call Me Patent Application

Vodacom launched its competing service on 15 March 2001. It was a carbon copy of the MTN service and was even identically named “Call Me”. The name was later changed to “Please Call Me”.

MTN immediately notified Vodacom that it was infringing on their patent. Vodacom informed Makate that MTN already had the service and threatened legal action for infringement.

The well-documented timeline, which includes IP and patent filings, established prior art as Vodacom had yet to publicly disclose and launch its service.

In 2019, Vodacom admitted that Please Call Me was invented and subsequently patented by MTN before Makate came up with the idea.

Considering what transpired in 2000 and 2001, Kahn believes that Makate should get no more than one cent for his Buzz idea.

He said Makate was not the originator of Please Call Me, adding that the courts never once ruled he invented the service. “You cannot invent an idea, which is all he proposed,” said Kahn.

“Makate is literally entitled to a ‘penny for his thought’, which is all he contributed and not a cent more,” Kahn said.

“The R47 million Vodacom offered Makate was R46,999,999.99 too much,” Kahn told Joosub in an email.

Timeline of the Please Call me events

15 November 2000Ari Kahn conceived the ‘Call Me’ idea
16 November 2000Kahn briefed MTN’s attorneys to prepare a patent application for filing.
20 November 2000Kenneth Makate shares his ‘missed call’ Buzz idea with Vodacom.
November 2000 to January 2001Kahn filed a patent disclosing all the steps and methods required to deliver a working solution. MTN builds the service.Makate’s Buzz idea could not be reduced to practice. It was not technically possible since a call could only mature to a ringing state if the user had credit.
22 January 2001MTN receives IP protection through its patent filing.
23 January 2001MTN launched ‘Call Me’. It was an instant hit.
15 March 2001Vodacom launched ‘Call Me’, a carbon copy of MTN’s service. It later changed the name to ‘Please Call Me’.