Although MobiTel has won two court cases based on what it believed to be its exclusive right to use a prepaid billing system using scratch cards, the mobile phone company actually does not have a patent for its product, a Ministry of Industry, Mine and Energy official said Wednesday.
It was thought that the card, which bears a hidden 10-digit code number that customers scratch to reveal and then dial into their phones, was patented with the Industry Ministry by MobiTel in June.
MobiTel then asked the Municipal Court for an injunction against Cambodia Samart, which had been planning to launch its own scratch card billing system. MobiTel won that case and Samart lost on appeal.
But Ping Siv Lay, deputy director of the Technical Department at Industry Ministry, said MobiTel has only applied for a patent, and research is being done to see whether the company should have exclusive rights to the scratch card.
“MobiTel can’t say they have a patent,” Ping Siv Lay said. “They are not registered. They only received a letter from us, not a patent certificate.”
Var Roth San, deputy director of the Intellectual Property Division at the Ministry of Commerce, said he was also told by Industry Ministry officials that MobiTel does not have a patent.
But Iain Williams, general manager of MobiTel, said he believes his company has a patent based on a letter signed by Industry Minister Suy Sem.
“At the moment, this doesn’t change anything,” Williams said. “From our point of view, we have a patent.”
The letter signed by Suy Sem, however, was written incorrectly, Var Roth San said, quoting a senior Industry Ministry official. The letter of notification was supposed to only acknowledge that the Ministry of Industry had received MobiTel’s application for a patent, the official told Var Roth San.
The beginning of the letter does not mention a patent, but the end of the letter confirms one.
The beginning of the letter dated June 9 said the Industry Ministry wanted to inform telephone companies that “MobiTel has requested to register for the protection of its properties…”
However, the end of the letter states MobiTel has registered a patent, saying “All mobile telephone companies are hereby informed of the recognition of the above-cited registration for the protection of the system.”
The Industry Minister official who wrote the letter is afraid to correct the matter because he got the letter signed by Suy Sem, Var Roth San said.
Samart General Manager Somchai Lertwisettheerakul was shocked and pleased Wednesday to hear MobiTel did not have a patent for the scratch card.
“I’m very happy,” Somchai said by telephone.
Somchai said he did not know what this new information would do to his case, which he is appealing to the Supreme Court, but he will request a meeting with Industry Minister Suy Sem.
Suy Sem declined comment Wednesday, as did David Doran, local counsel to Mobitel.
Although Samart’s planned prepaid system for its new digital network will be further delayed, Somchai said he has another solution that will allow him to launch soon. He declined to elaborate.
Williams said MobiTel would also look into the patent issue.
The court battle over who can use the prepaid scratch card is the first time a local court has ruled on an intellectual property rights issue.
Samart has argued that the scratch card is used in many other countries, so MobiTel should not have been given a patent for it.
MobiTel has argued that although it doesn’t own the prepaid phone card system, it does own the scratch card process, which it is trying to protect.