Johannesburg - Nkosana Makate was back in court yesterday as his long-running battle with Vodacom over compensation for the Please Call Me concept resumed for closing arguments.

But the company funding Makate’s case, Sterling Rand, is embroiled in a separate legal wrangle against the cellular network giant.

Vodacom has applied to join Sterling Rand to the action with the aim that if Makate’s case failed, Sterling Rand would be liable for Vodacom’s legal bill in addition to Makate’s costs.

Sterling Rand has opposed the application and its attorney, Wertheim Becker, is preparing an answering affidavit. Chris Schoeman, a Sterling Rand director, said the Vodacom application “serves no purpose. We say there is no law for it.”

But Leslie Cohen, an attorney for Vodacom, cited examples of case law that supported attempts to expose funds, which are party to legal proceedings, to a court order. The SA National Potato case (PwC and Others v National Potato Co-operative) is well-known.

The date to hear this matter has not yet been set.

If that was not enough intrigue, the court also heard from Makate’s counsel that in the weeks following the conclusion of hearings in July, they had tried access audio records of the proceedings through the South Gauteng High Court.

They discovered that the testimony by former Vodacom chief executive Alan Knott-Craig in the matter had vanished. The records were found a month later. These are the recordings of Knott-Craig’s tell-all testimony under cross-examination in which he admitted he was not the inventor of the Please Call Me service, as he had claimed in his biography. He also acknowledged during the trial that it was possible Makate had conceived the concept that led to the development of Please Call Me.

The service was launched on February 11, 2001, several months after Makate disclosed his idea in November 2000 to his superiors at Vodacom, where he was employed as a junior accountant in the finance department.

Cedric Puckrin, senior counsel for Makate, apologised to Judge Phillip Coppin as he set down a disjointed transcript of the proceedings, saying this was because the missing records were typed up separately, once they had been located.

Makate’s case, which seeks to compel Vodacom to discuss compensation as was promised by a former executive, throws a spotlight on the issue of the ownership of rights to intellectual property that has been created by employees.

Puckrin argued that Vodacom had entered into a multi-faceted agreement with Makate. The latter was to disclose the idea for Please Call Me to his employer only. If the idea, once tested for its technical and commercial viability, was found to be successful, then the parties would discuss compensation that was “proportional and commensurate” with the revenue earned by commercial exploitation of the idea.

He highlighted flaws in Vodacom central argument, that the executive who struck the agreement did not have the authority to do so.

Puckrin also noted contradictions in that, while Vodacom did not deny the entire agreement, in its pleadings the company denied the concept was brought forward by Makate.

The matter continues today. - Business Report