Safaricom did not steal the Okoa Jahazi idea, the court ruled on March 11, 2020. The complainants, Christopher Omare and Michael Otachi t/a Omare & partners, had sued the telco for infringing their idea with its Okoa Jahazi product.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs had rights over a mobile telephone program that would enable a subscriber to the mobile network to obtain emergency airtime credit in local currency. It was called Emergency Credit Service (ECS).

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The sole purpose was to provide emergency credit to customers. Suitable application scenarios could be when one is traveling and runs out of airtime, when in an area where regular scratch cards cannot be found, when one wants to make an emergency call at night or when one doesn’t wish to purchase airtime from regular outlets.

Based on the working of the ECS and Okoa Jahazi, the court ruled out that the plaintiff’s idea was too general for the mere taking to constitute an infringement.

“…although copyright law is intended to protect the rights of the author which in turn encourages creativity, it is important to note that if the Plaintiff’s work is sufficiently general the mere taking of that idea will not constitute an infringement,” the court said.

Timeline

Around November 2006, the complainants are said to have forwarded a written proposal about the ECS idea to Safaricom. This allegation was not denied by Safaricom.

The telco said it then forwarded an indemnity form to the complainants seeking the plaintiffs’ signature on the proposal. But according to the complainant, the telco failed to respond to the proposal and later in March 2009 launched Okoa Jahazi. Okoa  Jahazi allows Safaricom’s prepaid customers to access emergency airtime who meet certain eligibility criteria.

This led the plaintiffs to sue the telco, accusing them of stealing their idea.

Safaricom defended itself saying it already “had in its possession and knowledge the concept by virtue of learning about if from Vodafone operators, such as Vodafone Spain” prior to receiving the ECS proposal.

They also argued that the idea was already implemented elsewhere in countries like India, Egypt, and Spain.

That led the court to rule out that “the plaintiff’s proposal is so general that even if the defendant took that general idea they cannot be said to have infringed.”

The judge argued that even though the proposal gives the general idea of the Okoa Jahazi product, it “bears no other details of how that concept could be worked out.” General concepts of the two ideas – Okoa Jahazi and ECS – were also found to be different.

It was also, apparently, not an original idea as it was already been implemented elsewhere successfully in places like Lesotho, and the plaintiff knew that thus ruled out for lack of originality.

The claim was also thrashed for not being solid for not specifying where the infringement really was, apart from the general idea.

Court Ruling

“On the whole, I find that the plaintiffs failed to produce cogent evidence to support the claim. The case, therefore, does fail with costs,” said Hon. Lady Justice Mary Kasango.

(Update: 25/05/2020) — Safaricom wins an additional case on Okoa Jahazi.

Today Justice Grace Nzioka delivered judgment on another case against Safaricom’s Okoa Jahazi product presented to the court by Simon Omondi. The complainant had claimed that he helped improve the product by suggesting to the telco to include other denominations apart from Kshs. 50. He also claimed he created the ‘Maliza Story’ slogan which Safaricom through its marketing agent Redsky changed to ‘Maliza Stori’ and that it helped improve the product.

The court bashed the first allegation stating the product was already launched by the telco, so the complainant could not claim as the origin of the idea.

For the “Plaintiff to qualify as the originator he needed to have showed great exercise of skill in creation of the product which he did not.”

But for the second accusation, the court considered the claim that “Safaricom ought to have considered some small compensation in using the word proposed by the Plaintiff in marketing the improved Okoa Jahazi.” The telco wasn’t found guilty of copyright infringement, however. In conclusion, the case was dismissed and Justice Grace Nzioka declined to award costs to Safaricom.

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