The news that Cold Steel was suing CRKT had just started to trickle out while I was at Blade, given that the suit was filed only days before. I initially shrugged it off, there was too much of an awesome nature to deal with at the show to care that much about what looks in my mind to be a completely frivolous action on the part of Cold Steel. However, as more information has become available, and wheels of the legal system have begun to churn, it seems like the opportune time to go back and examine both the suit and reaction to it.
For a good overview, check out Gear Junkie’s initial report shortly after the filing. In a nutshell, CRKT has made the claim in their advertising that some of their locks, namely the LAWKS, Auto-LAWKS, and LBS systems, turn CRKT folders into “virtual-fixed blades”. Apparently Lynn Thompson and Cold Steel have taken umbrage with that, and have initiated the lawsuit. They have stated in their Press Release that they are doing it for the safety of consumers, and that CRKT’s actions create a false expectation of strength and safety. They are claiming that CRKT has gained an unfair competitive advantage through false advertising.
If you want to know my honest opinion, I think that CRKT’s claim is stupid. While I have not beaten on as many knives over the years as Lynn Thompson, I have a fundamental understanding of physics and know that two or more pieces of steel held together by a pivot and lock are not going to be as strong as a solid piece of steel of like thickness. It is common sense. Then again, Red Bull had to settle their “Gives you wings” lawsuit, so never underestimate the lack of such sense in the legal system.
That being said, this lawsuit is bad for all involved. Perhaps the best explanation of this comes from EveryDay Commentary. From a consumer’s POV:
“The knife business is full of small companies. The vast majority, including CRKT and Cold Steel, are well less than 500 employees. Only Gerber and KAI USA, both subsidiaries of much larger companies, are real corporate giants. The brands we know and love are almost all 30 or 40 folks (or less) working to make us great stuff at good prices. These are not Apple or Samsung. They do not have near infinite resources. Legal cases are time consuming, prohibitively expensive, and in the civil arena, rarely decide anything of import (most civil cases, and in fact most cases in general, settle before trial and many civil settlements are confidential). If small companies like CRKT, Cold Steel, and others are forced to engage in protracted legal battles they will have less time and money to devote to making, designing, and producing great knives for us. “
But even more damaging could be the long term fallout in an industry known for its openness, again from EveryDayCommentary:
In addition to the divided attention problem I mentioned above, there is also the issue of culture. The knife business, from custom makers to “big” companies is a interconnected and collaborative place…
Compare that with the world of high tech and big pharma. Not only is the competition voracious, but it has become so vicious that what transpires no longer bears even a passing resemblance to classic capitalism. Instead of making products and trying to outdo each other, big tech and big pharma have basically become addicted to manipulating intellectual property laws and suing each other. Fights over patents are the heart of two enormous lawsuits–Apple v. Samsung and a collection of suits against Microsoft. Billions of dollars are at stake. In each suit a sizable chunk of each company’s revenue for the year hung in the balance. Big tech companies regularly buy up vast troves of patents, hoping to land a gold nugget that they can use as shields in the event they are sued in the future. Small firms are gobbled up not for their products but for their patent portfolios. Inventors, the tech/pharma equivalent of custom makers, well, they don’t even figure.
If this corporate climate took hold in the knife world, in a few years we’d cease to recognize what we see.’
The text in bold is my own emphasis-added. As a Libertarian, I abhor the manipulation of the markets by sicking the Government on your competitors. There is also the angle that infighting within the Second Amendment community weakens us all when we should be focusing on the real enemy – hoplophobic politicians and their enabling minions. From Phil Elmore at WND.com (yes, this tiff has reached non-gear/firearms outlets as well):
“Embattled industries like gun and knife manufacturers cannot afford to give the liberals ammunition. If they can claim knife makers are selling dangerous products with false advertising, they can gain more support for legislation restricting and banning knives. Bringing a competitor’s conceptual sales tactics to the attention of our court system can therefore only hurt the knife industry.
The libs are already looking for any means of attacking knife owners and banning their tools. This is just what they have done with our guns. While the jury is still out, it looks like Lynn Thompson and Cold Steel may have handed the libs a very useful weapon in their war on your tools.”
This is going to be a long and drawn out process. If you want to read the real legal nuts and bolts, EveryDayCommentary published a follow-up on how the case will proceed. It does an excellent job of boiling down the legal process and explaining things in a way that a Trout Bum like myself can understand.
In the end, I agree with John Richardson of the blog OnlyGunsandMoney.com:
“As anyone who has attended a NRA Annual Meeting or seen one of Cold Steel’s videos will know, Lynn Thompson is a showman. This lawsuit, to me, comes under the heading of lawfare – using the courts against your competitors – and is frivolous. I don’t think it really has much to do with false advertising or a concern for the customer but rather a different way to draw attention to yourself and your company. The timing of it is also suspect. It was filed two days before the opening of the June 5-7 Blade Show. This is the knife industry’s version of SHOT…
My personal response to this lawsuit will be to vote with my wallet. I won’t be buying any new Cold Steel knives in the future. I don’t approve of lawfare and I won’t subsidize it with my consumer spending. In fact, I may just have to buy that CRKT Liong Mah GSD knife I fondled handled at the SHOT Show.”
While Cold Steel has stated that any damages will be donated to KnifeRights.org, this was not a part of the original statement. Cold Steel could have spent the legal budget instead of a lawsuit and actually made things better instead of facing the almost universal condemnation of those in the industry.
I do know a couple of folks at CRKT and they have always been very helpful to us. They have provided us with swag for our readers, several knives to test including the Ken Onion Hootenanny and Halfachance, and some others. It has been a while since I have bought a CRKT, simply because I have been on the receiving end of enough blades to keep me busy.
I do not have any personal contacts at Cold Steel, they did send Chris a Lone Star Hunter and Mackinac Hunter (Chris reviewed the former, and I the latter), but my last email to their general contact went unanswered. I did personally purchase their version of a Canadian Belt Knife, because I thought it would be a nice introduction to the style.