The decision by Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel in the landmark intellectual property case of Swasey vs. Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) and Mek Me Rich (MMR) Belize Ltd. took just over an hour to read out on Tuesday, February 22nd. It was in essence and in fact an overwhelming victory for Swasey, who in December 2014 sued BTL and MMR – the first defendant for stealing his concept for a lottery texting show, protected under a non-disclosure agreement; and the second defendant for making use of his intellectual property for its own profits through the Mek Mi Rich game show.
After hearing final submissions by attorneys Magali Perdomo and Naima Barrow for BTL and MMR respectively, Justice Abel explained that he had not found the testimony from witnesses for the defendants to be compelling, and he had been persuaded by the witnesses for the claimant, Curtis Swasey.
Listing by points, Justice Abel ruled that Swasey’s non-disclosure agreement with BTL, signed in January 2012, was indeed binding and protected the lottery texting concept and business plan which was presented by Swasey and his IT expert Paul Elliot to BTL between 2012 and 2014. He found that BTL breached the confidentiality of its agreement with Swasey, and that the same concept was leaked to the principals of the company which would become MMR (Belize) Ltd., registered in April 2013.
The Judge did not believe that representatives of MMR just coincidentally came up with a lottery texting concept identical to Swasey’s idea. He explained that he had not been persuaded by representatives of MMR who testified that they had been holding discussions with BTL since 2013 to sell the lottery texting idea. Justice Abel concluded that there had been collusion between BTL and MMR to utilize Swasey’s concept and business plan for profit.
Attorneys for BTL and MMR clearly did not agree with the Judge’s decision, which even Naima Barrow for MMR told the Reporter – “It is a clear out victory, a clear out victory. Everything that he has claimed has been awarded to him, including costs.”
According to Barrow, the ruling is a distinct black eye, since “the Judge has not insinuated but has said that there was something shady happening between B.T.L. and my client.” Attorney Magali Pedro, representing BTL, saw it differently. Coming out of Court she told the Reporter “the judgment does say that the decision was based on circumstances and circumstantial evidence.”
For businessman Curtis Swasey, represented by attorney Kareem Musa, it is a victory, and a significant one. He left the Court today satisfied that his assertion of being “chanced” by BTL was upheld by the Supreme Court. He declined an interview, but Musa told the media that “he (Swasey) is a modern day David that went against the big telecommunications giant Goliath BTL and we all know who those principals are of BTL and of Mek Mi Rich. He took on the giants and he came out victorious today.”
But if there is any dark cloud to this silver lining, it is the financial aspect of what Justice Abel called a Pyrrhic victory. Musa claims that because he could not access MMR’s financials to determine a dollar value of the game show, he could not present an accurate estimation of damages suffered by his client through the misappropriation and use of his idea. Abel would award only $25,000 to Swasey, the figure which MMR claimed to have paid BTL as a product development fee.
Swasey has reserved the option of seeking further redress in the Court, while BTL’s attorney has stated that he will be consulting her client about the possibility of an appeal. The Mek Mi Rich game show has been off-air for the duration of the Court case, and is unlikely to reappear based on the judgment in the Supreme Court.
In a release issued this morning, the People’s United Party weighed in, stating that it registers serious concern at, “what amounts to no less than a conviction of BTL, or persons acting on behalf of BTL, on charges of corruption. We are further concerned that no principal of BTL has come forward to announce an immediate investigation into the matter.” Taking the political step forward, the PUP also connected the dots, stating “we note with great interest the political connection between BTL and MMR at the highest level. The Chairman of the Executive Committee of BTL is Anwar Barrow, son of the Prime Minister. One of the Directors of MMR is Andre Vega, son of the Deputy Prime Minister.”
While Curtis Swasey was in Court to hear the decision on Tuesday, principals of MMR Andre Vega and Sanjay Hotchandani and representatives of BTL were absent.