UPDATE: Lynn Thompson has released an open letter on the issue on Cold Steel’s website. Link below.
Lynn Thompson and Cold Steel have been engaging in a pattern of “lawfare“. Last year, they sued CRKT over their claim that their locking systems turned their folders into “virtual fixed-blades”. While I think that CRKT’s claim was stupid, I have a hard time figuring out how Cold Steel was harmed by the claim. That lawsuit was settled, but Thompson and Cold Steel are at it again. This time instead of trying to hamstring an actual large-scale competitor like CRKT, Thompson has sent the above letter to dozens of knifemakers who advertise that they make “san mai” blades.
San mai blades consist of a smaller piece of hard steel sandwiched and laminated between two pieces (or a trenched single piece) of softer steel. In fact “San mai” means “3 flat things (layers)” in Japanese, and may refer either to the blade itself or the laminating technique used. One problem, Cold Steel trademarked “SAN MAI” in 1987.
I am nowhere close to being a lawyer, but I understand that copyright law is pretty specific. From what I have been reading on sites like Bladesmiths Forum, Thomson doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. His trademark covers “SAN MAI” (all caps), “SAN MAI III” as well as a stylized logo version of the term. From what people have been saying online (take with a grain of salt) is that legally if one simply says “san mai knives” or “san mai technique” it isn’t actually infringing on Cold Steel’s trademark.
As I said, take it with a grain of salt, but the consensus is that the Cold Steel trademark only refers to the specific term “SAN MAI” and the logo design. That might be all well and good if you have deep pockets, like CRKT. However, small makers lack the resources to fight a company the size of Cold Steel. Seeing a case through to the end is likely to yield a Pyrrhic victory. One might prevail, but it comes at too high a cost to survive. It is far more likely that small makers will cave under the threat, and the bully will silence the “competition”. It is far easier to simply to scrub your website than fight “the man(child)”.
Artisinal makers are no threat to Cold Steel, but for some reason or another Thompson seems to think that actions like this actually benefit his company. I have never been a Cold Steel fanboy, but I haven’t gone out of my way to hate on them. They offer a mix of acceptable and overbuilt to complete mall-ninja crap. I am no longer going to sit on the fence. I find Thompson’s actions to be abusive and repugnant. I am through with Cold Steel.
UPDATE: If you would like to hear Lynn Thompson’s side of the story, you can find his open letter on the subject here.