I have pretty much written all I care to on this topic, or certainly will have following this post. I had tried to avoid becoming entangled in this particular brier-patch, but events of the last week made it impossible to ignore. Read my prior posts (here & here) if you don’t know the background.
I reached out yesterday to both KAI and Microtech, seeking official statement on the defamation lawsuits filed by the latter. I received a polite “No Comment” from KAI, and this evening I received a phone call from Microtech counsel Daniel Lawson. I will detail our cordial conversation in a minute, but first here is a statement that was published to Microtech’s Facebook Page a couple of hours ago:
Freedom of Expression and Defamation
The First Amendment to the US Constitution provides that the government cannot censor speech, prevent people from peaceably gathering together, establish a religion, or prevent people from freely exercising religious beliefs.
This right to free speech entitles a person the freedom to form and express their own opinion, to the extent that they do not incite or cause harm to others in doing so.
A person has every right to call someone an asshole, or to publicly state that they don’t like a product. They’re entitled to say that it’s a bad product. These are all statements of opinion and are protected under the First Amendment.
However, to claim that the maker of a product is a liar, is deceptive, and is a thief without providing substantial evidence of proof, is considered an unfounded claim and a defamatory accusation, directed personally to an individual’s character with the intent to cause harm to that person’s reputation.
Defamation lawsuits are a long established, recognized right and a legal method of dealing with untrue statements that intend to damage an individual and/or their reputation.
Defamation lawsuits do not seek to censor an individual or to limit their expression of opinion. They are in place to protect individuals from untrue and unjust statements.
As a manufacturer creating specialized products for specific user groups and purposes, review and critique of those products is essential for the evolution and advancement of innovation. As a knife maker with decades of contribution to the industry, Anthony Marfione and Microtech Knives openly welcome and encourage constructive criticism of our products.
We challenge everyone, especially those who are skeptical of our product quality, to pick up a Microtech or Marfione Custom product for yourself. If after comparing our products to the competitor’s, you feel we’re offering a sub-par product, we would love to hear your feedback on how we can improve.
We strive to deliver American-Made craftsmanship with superior quality. We believe this is evident as soon as you pick up a Microtech or Marfione Custom product. We understand that no product is perfect and we count on our customers to provide feedback and criticism to understand how we can improve. Your feedback enables us to deliver the best products possible, striving to continuously improve upon and evolve our level of craftsmanship.
To all of our customers, and to all those who support the evolution and advancement of the knife industry, we are grateful for your contribution, your criticism and your support.
This is a fairly close match for what I discussed with Mr. Lawson this evening. It is the plaintiffs belief that the statements made by Anthony Sculimbrene in his Everyday Commentary post crossed the line out of opinion on a product or design and into declarative statements, put forward as factual, that were a direct and libelous assault on the character and business conduct of Anthony Marfione and Microtech. Hence the defamation suit.
He informed me that I was mistaken in claiming that KAI had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Microtech, rather they sent a “Cease and Desist” letter, to which Microtech responded by ceasing and desisting with production of the locking mechanism in question and quickly re-engineered the lock. I have updated my piece to reflect this error on my part.
Microtech has met with Mr. Sculimbrene as part of Pennsylvania’s pre-trial arbitration process (on 4/20/17) and Mr. Lawson expressed his belief that the parties are close to reaching a settlement. They have not yet met with KAI under the same arbitration process.
Including KAI’s Social Media Manager – Kale Beyer in the lawsuit is not an attempt “to go after the little-guy” but rather as their employee, both he and KAI are responsible for his actions unless they seek to claim that he had gone-rogue, which KAI has not done. Kale’s sharing of Mr. Sculimbrene’s piece on social media makes KAI a party to the alleged defamation, seeking to profit from it with while damaging their competitor (Marfione/Microtech).
Lastly, he explained the so-called “challenge” issued by representatives of KAI at the 2011 Blade Show. The story is documented in this prior press-release from Microtech, but I understand the details better following my conversation with Mr. Lawson.
According to Mr. Lawson, KAI reps visited the Microtech booth, and stated something along the lines of “We are going to make an OTF knife in the signature style of Microtech, but you all could never make a knife equal to the ZT 0777 prototype”. Mr. Marfione took up this challenge and did in fact manage to bring the Matrix to market ahead of the 0777. Microtech is not denying that the knife is modeled on the 0777, in fact Marfione did just what he was supposedly challenged to do – make a knife like the 0777.
I have done my best to accurately recount and explain my conversation with Mr. Daniel Lawson esq. Any errors are mine and unintentional and I will correct them if appropriate.
Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Lawson for contacting me in response to the email request for comment I sent to Microtech yesterday. As I mentioned, our conversation was cordial. Other than a comment about his distaste for the knife media in general, he exhibited considerable patience in explaining the intricacies of a situation that is admittedly outside of my wheelhouse. He never told us to remove or alter our coverage, the changes I made to my piece from last night were a result of my own quest for accuracy in my reporting. Our conversation ended with an invitation to stop by the Microtech booth at BLADE Show and get to know the products and people better, which is something I was hoping to do even before this controversy came to the front-of-mind.
None of this changes my belief that the lawsuits pour fuel on a fire that had been simmering out, elevating a niche argument into a bigger deal than it needed to be. It was old news for a couple of months, and it wasn’t until now that I even felt it worth addressing at TTAK. Basically, it was the subject of a couple of threads on a couple of online forums, out of hundreds or even thousands of threads on other knife topics. For example, the discussion of the issue on BladeForums went quiet on January 30th, with nothing new posted until this week. More than half of all comments on that thread have been since Tuesday.
Of course Microtech would argue that it was KAI that resurrected the issue with the release of the Natrix at SHOT Show this year. Social media aside, KAI certainly has tried to make hay out of the controversy with the product description of the Natrix on the Kershaw website: “Now the next time you see this famous knife profile, it will be from a manufacturer that has a right to the design: us.”
Personally, I am tired of the whole thing and am looking to leave this particular quagmire behind as rapidly as possible. We have knife reviews to write, “5 from the Grinder” interviews to post, and plenty of other rabbit holes to dive down. Of course I will publish straight news as appropriate as the lawsuits work their way through legal process, but I am done opining on the issue. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.