knife rip-off question


knife law moderator
Dec 25, 1998
Having seen the recent thread about Smith and Wesson ripping off Darrell Ralph's neck knife has got me wondering if anything can be done about companies blatantly ripping off designs. Obviously you can patent a lock design or some other mechanism, but can you not patent a style or form design? Is there nothing that can legally be done? Or is it a matter of not having the resources to fight a company like Smith that undoubtedly has many lawyers on the payroll?

I know that Smith has also ripped off Benchmades 3500 automatic.

or how about those cheap Spyderco knock-offs?


You can't patent a design. There is a thing called a "design patent", but keep in mind that the word "design" has many definitions and the design patent does not cover the appearance of something.

You can copyright and trademark designs. Owens Corning has a trademark on making insulation pink. There's a company that recently won a very important court case defending a copyright on making ironing boards gold color (these are professional ironing boards used in commercial launderies) This is the first time that a specific use of a color has been copyrighted (not just trademarked). Harley Davidson is currently working with the Patents and Trademark Office on the details of trademarking the distinctive sound of a Harley.

If you design a knife, then you have a copyright on that knife automatically. But, two things are true: first, there are no copyright police who run around and arrest people who violate your copyright. It's up to you to police your own copyright. Second, copyrights are very narrow. The violator has to dupicate your work virtually exactly.

I'm no expert, but unless the two knives are open and I can see the markings on the blades, I can't tell the BM3500 from the SW1500. IMHO, SW has stepped over the line and infringed on BM's copyrights.

But, again, there are no copyright police to pull SW over and ticket them. BM would have to sue them. It would be a messy and expensive court case. BM would win, but they'd probably have to pay so much in legal costs that it wouldn't be worth it. BM apparently feels they'll get a better return on their investment by investing in new designs, on research and development, on hiring new good people and training and retaining their existing quality workforce, and on improving their equipment and facilities.


[This message has been edited by Gollnick (edited 23 August 1999).]
You can Patent a knife design but the patent searchs and time to do said are very costly, and time consuming. But, if it is of a design that is totally different in all aspects of the knife world it can be done. Although a copy right is easier to attain and in many cases would be enough to prevent the blatient stealing of ones designs since the changes in the law stated in 1978, 1983. If someone (party of the first part) has produced a knife design and has had it advertised prior to being copied (party of the second part); said party can be held accountable for royalties for the sale of said item. You need to check with the federal office in the area for copy infringement. There have been some cases settled out of court this way. Prior to 1978 you were as the saying goes ____out of luck. I can speak from past experience because my situation happened prior the the law changes.

Curtis Wilson -
Wilson's Custom Knives, Engraving, and Scrimshaw
A patent is only useful if you are able to enforce it. And doing so can be very costly and is probably out of reach for the average person or even a small company unless the thing that is being protected by the patent is making a whole lot of money. So while I do not know if you could in fact patent a knife design I do know that it would be tough to enforce if you can.
There is a cool way around the laws. Forget a patent and make a catalog and copyright damn near everything about your knife. Then if another company makes one you go after them if they place ads, catalogs or have a web site.

Kind of hard to sell a knife if you have no way of showing it huh?

Best Regards,
Mike Turber
BladeForums Site Owner and Administrator
Do it! Do it right! Do it right NOW!

very good idea....i notice a while back that a certain company copied mike franklins designs and spoke up and got blasted for it.. its a dog eat dog world.....go get a lion for a pet!!!!!!


Your information is totaly wrong on the design patent. That is strictly the look of the item there cannot be a single description on mechanical function if so they change kick it back and you have to apply as a mechanical patent. There is also the issue of trade dress which is where you intentional try to confuse the consumer into thinking that they are buying a specify product. Leatherman and Spyderco have both kicked some serious butt in both Trade Dress and Design Patent cases

Bob Taylor

Some days it's not worth chewing through the restraints and escaping.
Simply don't buy cheap Spyderco ripoffs and such. If you don't buy any, they don't sell any, and they lose.