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Nedbank has “categorically” denied that it infringed on the commercial rights of two Gugulethu entrepreneurs relating to their patent.
On 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.
In a statement yesterday Nedbank said Jwambi and Kutumane’s claims that Nedbank stole their “Rassfi/Instablock” patent on the “freeze/unfreeze” functionality on the Nedbank MoneyTM app are unfounded.
Nedbank has filed an application with the Court of the Commissioner of Patents to have the patent revoked. The bank said it would also defend a summons that was served on the bank on Tuesday.
Nedbank has ‘categorically’ denied that it infringed on the commercial rights of two Gugulethu entrepreneurs relating to their patent
“Nedbank’s product and services both pre-date and differ technically and functionally from the patented inventions of Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane. Nedbank refutes claims by the two entrepreneurs that the bank created a legitimate expectation that any commercial arrangement of any nature would be reached,” the statement said.
The bank said that at the time that Jwambi and Kutumane presented the “Rassfi/Instablock” idea to LaunchLab, a number of local and international technology providers and financial institutions, including Nedbank, had already considered, developed or implemented a card blocking mechanism for clients.
“The mechanism is in no way new technology,” stressed Nedbank.
Nedbank said LaunchLab is an independent initiative of Innovus Technology Transfer (Pty) Limited, the industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University.
“Nedbank is an arm’s length corporate sponsor, together with other organisations, of LaunchLab and some of its activities,” added the bank.
It said the bank had embarked on a “technical and legal assessment” since October last year – when it was approached by Jwambi and Kutumane. It said it found the “Rassfi” patent invalid due to “lack of novelty and inventiveness, based on various international and SA publications and mobile applications pre-dating the patent”.
“In the interest of transparency, Nedbank disclosed a list of 18 prior publications detailing the functionality of ‘Rassfi’ to Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane.
“Nedbank has continued to engage with Mr Jwambi and Mr Kutumane and their legal representatives, including
convening meetings in good faith on several occasions with a view to avoid unnecessary conflict and
continually address any remaining concerns,” the bank said.
‘Just guys from the township’
A report yesterday by SA business publication Moneyweb, says in November 2015, two LaunchLab employees, Jonathan Smit and Brandon Paschal, suggested 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 yesterday 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.
Ventureburn today contacted Smit who claimed 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, expected to be put out later today. Pascal was not immediately contactable.
Jwambi told MetroFM that he first became aware of the solution that he believes Nedbank stole from him, when he in “about 2016” he came across one of the bank’s self-service terminals, where at option on the screen allowed a user to cancel a cheque book.
He then subsequently became aware of the bank’s money app which had been launched and allowing for users to block lost or stolen cards via the app.