Gauteng admissions site lands dept in hot water

Read time 4min 10sec
MEC Panyaza Lesufi's department has been accused of stealing the idea for its learner registration site.
MEC Panyaza Lesufi's department has been accused of stealing the idea for its learner registration site.

Having weathered the rocky start of its online admissions Web site, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) is now facing legal action following claims the idea for the site was stolen.

In April, the GDE announced parents of leaners entering grade one and eight in 2017 would be required to use the department's site to register for the academic year.

Today, however, the department was accused of stealing the idea that led to a successful registration process for the 2017 academic year.

Eyewitness News reported: "A Johannesburg IT entrepreneur [Melissa Laing] has served legal papers on Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, claiming the department stole her concept for an online school registration Web site. Laing served a summons on Lesufi on Friday."

Laing told the radio station she came up with the idea of online registrations while trying to find a school for her son in 2012. She presented the concept to the education department in October that year but was rejected.

At the time, Laing was told it was a stupid idea and the department didn't have budget. Laing says she wants the department to shut down the online registration system, or prove it did not steal the concept from her, according to Eyewitness News.

The GDE failed to respond to ITWeb's questions but released a statement saying: "We are being flooded by enquiries on the same issue. We therefore decided to issue a statement regarding the matter to provide clarity. We therefore request you to exercise a little more patience as we are drafting a statement."

Seamless registration

The online learner admissions site aimed to prevent long queues during the registration period and encourage tech-savvy school registration.

The department said after receiving more than 30 000 late applications last year, it decided a digital system would be ideal.

However, on debut, the online application system crashed and was plagued with technical glitches, leaving parents frustrated and unable to make online admissions for their children.

Together with the technical glitches, the GDE also admitted the admission site was a prime target of hacking attempts. During the first month, the department recorded more than 300 hacking attempts.

Despite the glitches, the department weathered the stormy start and managed to successfully register more than 220 000 grade one and eight learners for the next school year through its new online system, Lesufi announced last week.

Where is the novelty?

In terms of copyright, in intellectual property (IP) law there is no protection of a concept or an idea, unless the idea has been materialised.

Stephen Hollis, senior associate and IP lawyer at Adams & Adams, says the Copyright Act is clear as it only recognises certain types of work, for example literary, musical or artistic works. "The idea that you claim has to be original and in material form."

The idea must not be part of public domain, he says. "It is general knowledge that an organisation should have an online presence."

According to Hollis, how an organisation goes about adopting a digital strategy is dependent on various factors, including money, and just because the idea is brought to them doesn't mean it wasn't in mind.

Just because the funds are not available to implement the digital strategy almost immediately doesn't mean the organisation wasn't thinking about the idea, he says. "A person cannot come and claim the idea. It is not a brilliant idea ? it is part of public domain."

However, he says: "If you reach an agreement and discuss the idea with an organisation and your idea is noted as an excellent idea, you draft material document and work with an organisation's design team on developing the idea and there is an agreement for payment - then that claim is valid."

Hollis suspects that many individuals will continue to investigate unfounded legal claims against businesses and organisations who they feel have misappropriated their ideas on the basis of a misinterpretation of the legal principles upon which the Vodacom 'Please Call Me' court case was ultimately decided, as well as a general misunderstanding of the basic principles of IP law.

"It would be best for such individuals to contact an IP lawyer to discuss the merits of the matter before seeking to institute a legal action or allege an infringement of rights in the media," concludes Hollis.

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