THE inevitable row over the extremely noisy Vuvuzela has become a favourite topic of conversation at the FIFA World Cup. But the plastic instrument is drowning out another conversation — who exactly invented the Vuvuzela, and why should plastic versions of traditional musical instruments be protected under South Africa’s Intellectual Property law?
There are conflicting reports in the media about the origin of the Vuvuzela. While most local newspapers attribute the invention to local South African businessman Neil van Schalkwyk, 36, according to the UK Guardian, a man by the name of Freddie Maake, 53 from Johannesburg claims to have invented the device.
The football fan said he created the vuvuzela prototype in the mid-70s and developed versions in aluminium and plastic, but in 2001 a company trademarked it and mass produced it. Maake said he asked for royalties but the talks broke down.
Neil van Schalkwyk of Masincedane Sport, a sporting goods and apparel company, says he is the inventor and has papers to prove it. According to the Guardian, van Schalkwyk a football fan, used to play semi-professionally. “I saw a tin version of the product at the stadiums,” he recalls. “With my background in plastics, I spoke to my then manager about us developing a plastic version in about 1999. The first samples were made in 2001 and we started getting the product out into the market then.”
Maake on the other hand, says he came up with the design and name: “I’m the father of vuvuzela,” he said. “The name comes from me. van Schalkwyk called his prototype something completely different.” Production of the patented plastic Vuvuzela was announced shortly after South Africa won the rights to stage the world cup event. The plastic Vuvuzela has a remarkable resemblance to the Swiss Horn, and other traditional European and African instruments which have been with us for thousands of years. While Maake is not making a cent, van Schalkwyk reckons the industry is worth R50 million a year. It is unlikely the dispute will ever reach court, since litigation in terms of South African Intellectual Property Law is incredibly expense. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see if van Schalkwyk’s claim holds up. It would not be the first time that patents have been overturned after unscrupulous investors have exploited traditional knowledge.