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Stellenbosch University business incubator LaunchLab says there is no truth to the allegation that it “conspired” with Nedbank to frustrate the efforts of two Gugulethu entrepreneurs in securing patent rights.
It comes as last Tuesday (18 June) Thandile Jwambi and Tatolo Kutumane applied to the court of the Commissioner of Patents in Pretoria for an interdict to stop Nedbank from using a card-blocking system they say was stolen from them. The two are demanding more than R280-million in damages.
The two allege that Nedbank stole their idea for a card-blocking system which they presented in a pitching competition hosted by LaunchLab in Stellenbosch in 2015 and which was sponsored by the bank.
Nedbank last week denied that the bank had infringed on the commercial rights of two Gugulethu entrepreneurs relating to their patent (see this story).
LaunchLab denies it conspired with Nedbank to frustrate the efforts of two Gugulethu entrepreneurs in securing patent rights
A report last week by SA business publication Moneyweb said in November 2015 two LaunchLab employees, Jonathan Smit and Brandon Paschal, suggested that the entrepreneurs sell their system to Nedbank for R1-million, but that the two entrepreneurs declined the offer because they wanted a royalty agreement with the bank.
The report said 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”. It said an insulted Jwambi and Kutumane then decided to end the meeting.
On MetroFM last Thursday (20 June) Jwambi said he and Kutumane were upset after the meeting with Paschal and Smit. “We were really upset about what these guys were saying to us, because I mean we were expecting them to help us to commercialise our product and at the same time they are actually, bulldozing us,” Jwambi said.
Smit last week told Ventureburn he had never said the two were “just guys from the township”. He said he preferred not to comment further, until Launchlab released a statement. Pascal was not immediately contactable.
‘We did not conspire with bank’
In its statement which was finally released yesterday, LaunchLab said the incubator’s core purpose is to help entrepreneurs build businesses.
“It is not in the business of developing or trading in patents. LaunchLab coaches entrepreneurs to develop products and businesses that can help them create wealth, create jobs and raise the economic activity in our region.
“LaunchLab also provides an incubation platform where entrepreneurs can gain support to take their business concepts to market and compete effectively in the business landscape.
“LaunchLab does not represent or act as agents for either the entrepreneurs or potential funders, partners or purchasers of concepts, patents or ideas incubated by LaunchLab and its various initiatives to stimulate entrepreneurial incubation but does act in the interest of the entrepreneurs and the businesses they create.
“It was in that role that LaunchLab assisted Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane,” said the incubator.
‘They’re wrong on Small Claims Court’
The incubator also said there was no truth to the allegation made by Jwambi and Kutumane in the same Moneyweb report that the two had to take LaunchLab to the Small Claims Court to recover their prize money.
“A key initiative that LaunchLab used to showcase innovation and entrepreneurial flair was the 2015 LaunchLab Ideas Competition, in which Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane participated and won, earning themselves the R20,000 prize money.
“The prize was not a cash prize but was paid as refunds of legitimate business expenses claimed from time to time.
“LaunchLab strictly followed the process of assessing business expenses claimed by Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane and refunded legitimate business expenses,” said the incubator.