HARARE-BASED information communication technology innovator and entrepreneur Ignatius Munengwa has escalated his fight with mobile network operator Econet to the minister of Information Communication Technology, Tatenda Mavetera.
Munengwa says the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) of failed to act on his complaint in which he accused Econet Wireless of stealing an initiative he had presented to the company seeking a partnership.
The innovator wrote to the minister on 18 October last year, 10 months after writing to her predecessor Jenfan Muswere on 16 January 2023. Mavetera replaced Muswere after the August general elections.
In his letter, Munengwa asked Mavetera to look into a matter of false representations made by Econet in response to his claims that they stole an idea he had presented to the telecommunications company for a partnership.
Part of the letter reads:“We reported irregularities that we believe prejudiced our chance to hold Econet accountable for honesty and fair representations made to Potraz. We have accepted that Potraz does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate our original complaint, however during the initial complaint Econet made what we believe we should be allowed to ventilate.
“This correspondence from Econet once given to us as a response from the Director General’s office is now being ignored as part of the evidence submitted in the complaint process and this has created in our opinion a biased adjudication process.”
Munegwa asked Mavetera to intervene in the interest of justice.
“The Potraz Act allows for the public to escalate matters to your office where we feel the Potraz board and executive team appears to have been compromised and may affect the freedom of expression of the public endeavouring to pursue any activities in this space in the marketplace,” he wrote.
“Our request is for you to look into this matter with the view for us to be heard and the matter reach its natural conclusion through due process … I covet the opportunity to meet you in person at your earliest convenience to discuss this in more detail should you require more information.”
In 2011, M-Comm Africa, through its director Munengwa, approached Econet with a proposal to partner the company in the provision of panic button rapid response security services.
The proposed service would link mobile phone subscribers to a security firm of their choice and create a direct link to help through the use of a panic alert from their mobile numbers on their phone in the event of any danger.
Munengwa said he engaged Econet until June 2015, when the then chief commercial and customer services officer of Econet, Stanley Henning, responded advising that the company would not pursue the idea.
In November 2015, however, Econet launched “Connected Home”, which included a panic button and rapid response service, which Munengwa believes is a replica of his idea and therefore says by denying that fact, the telecomms company is making a gross misrepresentaion.
The innovator took the matter to Potraz hoping to get recourse, but to Munengwa’s frustration the state agency did not do so.
Econet chief operating officer Kezito Makuni wrote to Potraz on 28 July 2020 defending and absolving the company from any wrongdoing against Munengwa which however the innovator says is false.
Makuni agreed that his company once had extensive communication and exchange of emails with Munengwa over his innovation but at no time during the discussions was a contract, either oral or written, entered into between the parties.
Makuni said the engagements were purely negotiations which never saw the light of day in terms of creating a binding legal relationship.
He also said Econet had considered several ideas and, in particular, Chuango Security Technology Corporation which had developed a similar home security system.
“Being satisfied with the workings of Chuango’s home security system, we acquired non-exclusive rights to use their system and, in 2014 launched our Connected Home service which was wholly based on Chuango’s system and Chuango had developed and patented the idea long before Mr Munengwa had attempted to accost us with his idea/concept. Consequently, we did not need authority or consent from Mr Munengwa to implement our Connected Home system nor were we bound to deal exclusively with Mr Munengwa,” wrote Makuni.
“Our Connected Home service is not in any way related to Mr Munengwa’s panic button idea. In any case, the concept of a panic button was, at the time, not new and novel to an extent that one could claim ownership of the same. Especially when such a claim is not even backed by registered patents and/or trademarks. Further the business model of bundling services to the telecommunication service is not new in the industry and Mr Munengwa’s claims of crediting himself with the concept are baseless.”
“Econet Wireless did not and could not have possibly benefitted from Mr Munengwa’s concept or idea. It was a half measure which could have been difficult to sell to customers. Our Connected Home service is entirely based on the Chuango system, which we believe was conceived and developed by Chuango.”