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Inventor of Please Call Me ‘an enigma and a genius’

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“He is exceptionally smart. He has always been a forward thinker. He always showed me the other side of the coin, and taught me how to look at things more than what they are,” says Dean Doucha, about his uncle Ari Kahn.
by TALI FEINBERG | Feb 07, 2019

Last week, Kahn revealed on Radio 702 that he was the original inventor of the Please Call Me feature that has been at the centre of a decades-long legal battle.

For the past 10 years, Nkosana Kenneth Makate has been demanding compensation from Vodacom for inventing the Please Call Me feature that it adopted.

Speaking to Bongani Bingwa on 702, Kahn pointed out that Vodacom had admitted that he was the rightful owner of the patent. “It’s not something new... they have been telling me this for the past 10 years privately. The simple fact is what Makate suggested to Vodacom, they never developed or deployed. His buzz memo was not deployed back in 2001, and has not been deployed in the 18 years that have followed. And what Vodacom actually developed belonged to MTN,” he said.

Chris Schoeman, Makate’s former litigation funder, said that what Kahn said was absolutely correct. “Makate invent[ing] the Please Call Me concept – that is simply not true,” said Schoeman.

A patent filed by MTN on 22 January 2001 shows that Kahn is the inventor of “a method and system for sending a message to a recipient and a system for implementing the method”. It gives examples of messages that could be sent automatically, like “call me back” or “I have reached home safely”.

But who is Ari Kahn? “He moved from Cape Town to San Francisco in 2002 because he saw it as a spiritual centre of the world,” said his brother-in-law, Laurence Lasersohn. “He is extremely anti-establishment and very spiritual… basically a ‘rocket scientist’.

“He studied medicine before doing a computer science degree, for which he was awarded the highest marks ever at Wits University. He’s a very bright guy, and he’s not confrontational. I’m sure he’s working on his next patent.”

Doucha said Kahn was “an enigma and a genius, not governed by the boundaries of society”. For example, he had been vegetarian or vegan his whole life. He remembers that his uncle was registering domains online before the internet even came about. “I battle to fathom that kind of foresight,” he said.

Yet, he emphasises that Kahn is a very private individual who, ironically, lives mostly “off the grid”. “He is a salt of the earth kind of guy, but also a major philanthropist. And he is a yid at heart! He is one of six siblings who have all done very well. They grew up in a kosher home, and kept Shabbos.”

Doucha said he was surprised that Radio 702 had managed to reach his uncle, and that Kahn even chose to go on air, as he had always shied away from the limelight. “Maybe he just wanted to clear the air and attach a person to the other side of this equation, but I can promise he’s had no sleepless nights about this. There’s no ego involved – he’s just not that kind of person.

“Whatever he said is true, as he has no reason to tell anything but the truth. He continues to work on game-changing projects, but he never attaches his name to them. He lives a humble existence, and is always looking to better the world and humanity. His foresight is unparalleled.”

Meanwhile, Makate has denied that he and Vodacom have reached a settlement agreement. Vodacom lead Independent Director Saki Macozoma said the company could have handled the matter with Makate better from the start when he was still an employee. “We cannot undo the past. Where we’ve erred, as the company, we apologise,” he told Eyewitness News.

Though Vodacom said it couldn’t disclose how much its chief executive had offered Makate, only revealing that it was substantially higher than the previous R10 million offer, Schoeman said the company offered Makate R49 million in compensation.

Kahn told 702 that he did not expect to be paid for his invention, as he was a consultant to MTN at the time.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Len Kahn 13 Feb
    Danny would be so proud of you all! God I miss him

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