I want to start by saying that I hate lawfare – the use of legal action to hamstring one’s rivals in court as opposed to letting the free market decide. I was critical of Cold Steel when they sued CRKT. I was extremely critical of Cold Steel sending Cease & Desist letters to knifemakers over the use of the ancient Japanese term “san-mai” steel (CS does have a trademark over a particularly stylized, all caps logo with 3 parallel lines saying “SAN MAI “).
For those unfamiliar, there has been a long-running feud between between Microtech and KAI (Kershaw/ZT/Shun) dating back to 2011 over the “uncanny resemblance” between the ZT 0777 (BLADE Show 2011 “Knife of the Year”) and the Microtech Matrix. In fact, Microtech admits that the Matrix was modeled on the 0777 as a result of a direct challenge from KAI representatives. The situation had calmed down as both knives were retired from their companies’ respective lineups, but flared up again this year when Kershaw released the Natrix at this year’s SHOT show – in what Microtech has called a football-style “late-hit”.
Now Microtech has sued blogger Anthony Sculimbrene of Everyday Commentary for defamation and related offenses over an article he wrote referring to the Natrix as “The Greatest Knife of All-time”, mostly due to its not-so-subtle multi-pronged dig at Microtech and designer Anthony Marfione. You can read the complete Microtech response to the Natrix here.
I will get back to this in a minute, but for background on the initial beef, this YouTube video shows the “uncanny resemblance” between the ZT 0777 and the Matrix. In fairness to Microtech, there are details of the locking mechanism of the Matrix that they claim (in that statement linked above) are different enough to have been awarded a separate patent, which are not mentioned in this video.
As I said, the situation had died down until this year when Kershaw released the Natrix at the SHOT show. The Natrix is a fairly similar knife to the other two, but as both Kershaw and ZT are under the KAI umbrella, that is certainly fair-game.
The alleged low-blow was actually a “two-fer” related to the name. There is the obvious similarity between “Matrix” and “Natrix”, but wait, there’s more…
Natrix is a genus of colubrid snakes. Four species are in the genus. They are collectively called grass snakes and water snakes. However, some other snake species known as “grass snakes” and “water snakes” are not of the genus Natrix.
The genus includes:
In the words of the Blogfather, “Heh™”
This explains the whole “Snake in the Grass” reference that Anthony Sculimbrene used in his piece, that has among other remarks caused so much consternation and led to the Microtech lawsuit.
The suit was filed on January 31st and Sculimbrene subsequently removed the post on February 4th. According to the complaint filed by Marfione and Microtech, the story was a “purposeful attack” that had a lasting impact on Microtech’s commercial reputation. “Publication of the aforesaid article by the Defendant caused false and disparaging statements to be circulated to an audience that includes wholesale and retail buyers of Microtech products,” the complaint alleges.
“Sculimbrene has uttered and published and distributed defamatory statements as to plaintiff Marfione. In particular, Sculimbrene has stated that Marfione has stolen designs and committed theft of intellectual property, that Marfione is lazy and greedy, that it is Marfione’s nature to steal, that Marfione is a ‘snake-in-the-grass’ (meaning that he is a deceitful and treacherous person), that Marfione has been adjudicated as having infringed intellectual property rights of others, that Marfione’s actions are comparable to those of a notorious convicted murderer named Jared Lee Loughner, that Marfione declined an express invitation by Sculimbrene to comment on the statements [contained in Exhibit A] and that Sculimbrene’s statements about Marfione have the imprimatur of official action.”
I missed article in question, but I will assume that the remarks in question are accurate given their appearance in a legal complaint. I think that the “snake-in-the-grass” comment would be fair game if it was used in context of explaining the Natrix name (as it apparently was). I honestly can’t comment on any pattern of design infringement on the part of Marfione/Microtech beyond the ZT 0777/Matrix example, which I do believe was over-the-line. That said, in Microtech’s defense I think most double-edged OTF knives are rip-offs of Microtech, so maybe they are particularly sensitive.
As far as the claim that Sculimbrene’s piece caused “lasting impact” on Marfione/Microtech, I find it to be somewhat dubious as the suit was filed so closely after the piece was written. Frankly, by filing suit, Microtech has breathed new life into the controversy. If anything it highlights a situation that was to that point little more than trivia to knife-geeks. I for one was trying to let the situation lie because the legalities of the whole situation make my head explode.
Stay tuned, this looks to be far from over.