In a legal battle that many have compared to the ongoing Please Call Me versus Kenneth Makate saga, two Gugulethu entrepreneurs are taking Nedbank to court to prevent the company from using technology they allege was stolen from them.
Thandile Jwambi and Tatolo Kutumane designed a card blocking system back in 2015, with the software named ‘Instablock’, and are now demanding more than R280 million in damages.
They say the amount in question is based off royalties they would have earned.
Nedbank has denied stealing the system, which “allows customers to block bank cards that are suspected of being used for fraud”, as the two men yesterday applied to the Court of the Commissioner of Patents in Pretoria for an interdict to stop Nedbank using the tech.
Moneyweb has the details:
The two entrepreneurs developed the Instablock system after realising that none of the banks offered a system allowing customers to cancel their cards remotely across multiple platforms, such as smartphones, tablets and ATMs, once alerted to the fact that fraud transactions were taking place on their accounts. Previously, customers had to contact the bank by phone to cancel their cards. A provisional patent on the product was secured in 2015.
Several banks immediately reportedly showed interest in Instablock, and in September 2015 Jwambi and Kutumane were asked to give a presentation to Nedbank officials at the MyBusiness Expo being held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
They must have done well, because they later won a “pitching” competition called LaunchLab, where one of the sponsors was Nedbank. A judge from the competition, Waseem Hassim, was also a Nedbank employee, and expressed his interest in taking the system back to the bank’s Johannesburg head office.
At this point, the entrepreneurs say things became rather shady:
In November 2015, two LaunchLab employees, Jonathan Smit and Brandon Paschal, suggested the entrepreneurs sell their system to Nedbank for R1 million. The offer was declined, as the entrepreneurs wanted a royalty agreement with the bank. Smit apparently then replied that the two entrepreneurs were “just guys from the township” and did not have the money to fight Nedbank in court if they decided to take the system. Insulted by this attitude, Jwambi and Kutumane say they decided to end the meeting.
The two entrepreneurs were further puzzled that it took nearly six months before they were paid their R20 000 prize money from the LaunchLab competition – which, they had publicly announced, they intended to use to further secure their intellectual property by way of a full national patent.
You can probably guess where this is going from here.
We’ll skip ahead through the legal wranglings, and focus on Nedbank’s recent responses to Moneyweb’s requests for comment:
…Nedbank’s patent attorney Theo Doubell replied in March that Hassin had only joined the bank two weeks earlier as a small business relationship manager, and therefore had little knowledge of its technology portfolio and knowledge, nor did he have a mandate to contract with outside parties to acquire technology. He added that Nedbank did not make an offer to buy the Instablock technology.
Doubell says the type of card blocking technology claimed as unique by Jwambi and Kutumane is known as a Risk Avoiding System for Financial Institutions (Rasfii).
In order to pursue legal action against Nedbank, the two men approached the South African Litigation Company (Salfco). CEO Edward de la Pierre believes they have a strong case:
“Nedbank certainly did not have or use such a system prior to being introduced thereto by Jwambi and Kutumane at the MyBusiness Expo and then again at the LaunchLab events. Nedbank’s own employees confirmed this at various instances. It is now a matter that the Commissioner of Patents will have to decide on.”
…“Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane approached us because they did not have the funds to take on the banks,” adds de la Pierre. “In the Makate case [the Vodacom ‘Please Call Me’ case], it was just an idea with no patent. Here we have a patent. That’s the difference. We looked at their evidence given us by Jwambi and Kutumane and, after discussing it with our legal team, took a decision to back them.”
Now we wait to see what comes next from the filings made at the Court of the Commissioner of Patents.
As in the ‘Please Call Me’ case, I would expect this to be a slow-moving affair with much legalese to wade through.
If Thandile and Tatolo are indeed the creators of the system, and own the patent on it, then good luck to them in taking on the might of Nedbank.
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