The High Court has thrown out a case in which two individuals had sued Safaricom for infringing their copyright ownership of Okoa Jahazi, an emergency airtime service provided to distressed subscribers.
Christopher Omare and Michael Otachi, the two plaintiffs in this case, claimed to have title to ownership of Okoa Jahazi, a mobile phone program which enables a subscriber to obtain emergency air time credit (ECS).
The purpose of ECS is to provide emergency credit airtime to subscribers who might have while travelling, in an area with no airtime shops, require an emergency call at night or to those who might not wish to buy credit in available outlets for as little as KSh 50 or KSh 100.
On 23rd November 2006, Omare and Otachi forwarded written proposals of the ECS to Safaricom. Both Omare and Otachi allege that Safaricom failed to respond to the proposal and instead launched a product called Okoa Jahazi, in March 2009, which allowed Safaricom subscribers to access emergency airtime.
The plaintiffs told the court that that product was based on their ideas and that they suffered damages as a result of Safaricom infiringing on their copyright. Both Omare and Otachi were, therefore, seeking damages for an unspecified amount.
But in its defence, Daniel Ndaba, a lawyer representing the mobile provider, told the court that Safaricom had in its possession this knowledge and concept, prior to receiving the proposals of Omare and Otachi.
Ndaba told the court that Safaricom had learnt all about it from Vodafone operators, including the one in Spain. He stated further that the concept already in use in India, Egypt and Spain at the time the plaintiffs submitted their proposal to Safaricom.
In her ruling, dated 11th March, 2020, Judge Mary Kasango said the plaintiffs did not contest filed documents such as emails to prove that Safaricom had prior knowledge of the concept before receiving proposals from the plaintiffs. She further ruled that the plainttiff’s work was so general and that even merely taking up this plain idea did not infringe on their copyright.
The Court further ruled that the said proposals by the plaintiffs were just general statements with no specific details on how the concept could be worked out.
Further, it noted that the said proposals were not original with the plaintiffs citing similar ideas in countries such as Lesotho.
“The plaintiff’s case is dismissed for their failure to ,produce cogent evidence to support the claim,” said Judge Kasango in her rulinmg on the matter.
The case proves that having an idea is simply not enough to accuse someone else of stealing it and demanding payment. Many people can have the same idea and what matters is execution.