SA court rules against Standard Bank, MTN for copyright infringement

A small South African technology firm whose innovation was found to have been annexed wrongly by Standard Bank and telecoms operator MTN has succeeded in obtaining a court judgement against the two big companies.

The Cape Town based company brought a patent infringement lawsuit against Standard Bank and MTN in the Patent Court in Pretoria.

The court ruled Friday August 31, 2012 that Standard Bank and MTN had infringed 3MFuture Africa’s payment card security technology patent, a locally-developed innovation that allows users to switch their payment cards on and off with their cellphones – thereby eliminating the problems of card cloning, skimming and theft, a press  release issued same day in Cape Town has said.

The release indicated Mr Justice Tati Makgoka found that the technology was used by Standard Bank and MTN in their MTN Mobile Money Solutions (Pty) Ltd joint venture until January 13, 2012, when the on/off functionality was disabled. All three entities were defendants in this matter, the release added.

The court had heard that in more than 30 meetings and workshops during the course of a year, Standard Bank was able to learn everything about the 3MFuture Africa innovation.

After these meetings however, the court heard that Standard Bank then told 3MFuture it was not interested in the technology – but it turned out, the technology became an important component of the MTN Mobile Money (Pty) Ltd offering, the release noted.

“Our case was not as rare as one would think. Large corporates misappropriate the intellectual property of smaller companies on a regular basis, comfortable in the knowledge that they have deeper pockets, and can stretch out any litigation until the smaller company either gives up the fight or goes under,” Dr Wolfram Reiners, director of 3MFuture Africa and co-inventor of the technology was cited as saying.

He said the judgement is a vindication of his company’s assertion that its rights had been infringed – and sends a clear message to the business world to respect others’ intellectual property rights.

Dr. Reiners also urged smaller companies to always take precautionary steps to protect their intellectual property – such as patenting innovations – before approaching other companies with business propositions.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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