On Wednesday, notorious Kenyan telecommunications company Safaricom launched their new “reverse call” feature which allows the caller to transfer the cost of a call to the receiver by adding ‘#’ before the number they are calling.
In the service that will only be available for on-net calls, a customer receiving a reverse call request will see the caller’s details appear on the screen as normal, but once they pick the call, they will receive a voice prompt asking them to key in “1” to accept the reverse call.
CAPTION: Safaricom Director Sylvia Mulinge at the launch of the Safaricom “reverse call”. In February 2015, a drunk Mulinge hit and killed 8-year-old Mary Kiss Etale while driving a Toyota Prado KBU 483M.
Just two days after the launch, a distraught Kenyan innovator approached this site’s Chief Editor Mr. Cyprian Nyakundi and sought his attention on the matter.
28-year-old Benson Muthuri Muriuki says he was left in unbelievable shock on Wednesday afternoon when he saw his “reverse call” idea trending on social media.
A curious Muriuki decided to make a quick browse through the interwebs where his biggest fear became a reality — an idea he presented to Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore in 2016 had just been launched!
Muriuki narrates that in April 2016, he shared the “reverse call” idea with Bob Collymore and Safaricom through their respective official Twitter accounts.
— Benson Muthuri (@muthuri_benson) April 15, 2016
— Safaricom Care (@Safaricom_Care) April 15, 2016
He adds that in a reply, to his tweet, Bob Collymore told him it was a “great idea” and proceeded to share the post with Safaricom’s official Twitter handle.
Tweets which Benson, who is a Water and Environmental Engineer, alleges were deleted.
In our brief conversation with the innovator, he also told us that he has filed over 5 patents at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute, all which haven’t materialized due to the lack of financiers.
This isn’t the first time Safaricom has been accused of stealing intellectual property.
In 2012, Kenyan financial institution Faulu moved to court to stop Safaricom from operating the recently launched saving and lending service “M-Shwari”, saying the mobile service provider copied its idea.
In 2015, #SafaricomStealsIdeas was the top trending topic in Kenya after yet another innovator by the name Mwangi Chege accused the company of having nabbed and rolled out his idea of a product which would allow commuters to easily access bus fare and named it the 1963 card.
In 2017, just days after Safaricom had launched their “M-Pesa 1 Tap” service, a social media user by the name Jonathan Gikabu accused them of having stolen his idea of an NFC payment system which he presented to them in 2014.
Just 9 months ago, a South African by the name Kenneth Makate, accused one of Safaricom’s biggest shareholders Vodacom of having not given him his royalties after he invented the ‘Please Call Me’ service in 2001.
Other ideas Safaricom has been accused of stealing are Lipa Kodi, Maliza Storo, M-Kesho etc.
To be fair, the “reverse call” feature isn’t the most revolutionary invention and chances are hundreds of thousands of inventors (including those at Safaricom) have thought about it at some point.
However, if you feel that your idea is what the world has been waiting for, there are ways to protect it before sharing it with outside parties.
The Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) should be your first stop before sharing highly priced ideas, designs or prototypes.
If you do not protect your idea, and then share it with greedy corporates like Safaricom, then you’ll be equally to blame for your woes.
This, however, doesn’t mean that such companies should take advantage of young innovative minds like Benson’s.
Might he have used a better channel to share his idea? Yes, perhaps. Should giant companies fix their policies on rewarding outsourced ideas? Absolutely.
Tell us what you think in the comments section.
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