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Legality of using a known knife design


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As the title states, what are the rules on using the same design of someone else's knife, as seen on Google images or in person? I plan to delve into the land of folders soon. My ideas are to reverse engineer a Kershaw leek designed by Ken onion. Making all my parts and etc. Is this legal if I deside to sell it to a friend? If not, what can I do to manipulate the design enough that I could?

 

Thanks

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For me...I don't know that I'd be comfortable outright copying and selling anyone's design to be honest. If a person wanted a one off knife by me, but loved that design...maybe...but I'd leave my mark off of it (to keep others from asking me to replicate it again)...and would never otherwise do something like that. For me, a person making one copy of my work could be taken as a compliment. Anything more than that would feel disrespectful.

 

I'm not sure if you meant your question the way it sounds, so please don't take my reply wrong.

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It's not illegal like, say, bootlegging dvd's is illegal. The FBI isn't going to bust down your door. But if the original designer catches wind you're selling unauthorized copies, he might decide to seek compensation. In which case, he doesn't even need to be right for you to be in a heap of trouble. In order to even deal with his claim against you, you'd have to hire a lawyer which is already going to cost you exponentially more than any knife is worth.

 

If, however, you're just looking at other makers' designs to get an understand of the principles of folding knives (e.g. how a liner lock works), then you're fine. Nobody's got a copyright on the basic principles of how a folder works (unless it's a patented mechanism, or something), so you can use other's designs to learn from, but copying directly isn't a great idea.

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Thanks for the quick replies. Just to clarify I wasn't planning on monopolizing on anyone's designs, but I'm curious of how this works. I may have not worded my post very well. My intent is to get the basics down on folders using a known design (And make small minor changes so that I CAN sell it), however, where is the line drawn on blade/handle design being "too close" to the original? Perhaps it's a question that no one really has thought about? For example, the classic loveless drop point design. It has been duplicated with people putting their makers mark on it.

 

I ask for myself personally, but for anyone else who has the same questions.

 

Thanks guys!

Edited by Austin_Lyles
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Most folders have a similar design. Making one as an exact copy of another maker's knife to sell to someone else however...is unethical in my eyes. Now, buying a knife from another maker, and making a replacement blade would be fine, as long as you didn't claim credit for the entirety of the project. Some makers might even be willing to sell you unfinished knives for you to put your blades in. I think that's getting a bit off of your topic though.

The thing about it is...most of us go through a learning curve when we start into a new area of work. Those learning curve blades aren't always particularly valuable in terms of money...but they're invaluable to your learning process. I would have no qualms in taking apart another person's knives to see HOW they work...but I would absolutely take their design and customize it to my own aesthetic or performance specifications.

On your example of a Loveless drop point, trust me...Bob Loveless isn't the first one to make that overall blade shape. Knives have been being made for thousands of years...and anyone who claims to be an originator of a specific shape is probably fooling themselves. I've seen many guys who make kitchen knives with a long curved choil area, and a sweeping dropped spine like mine. Mine were the first I remember seeing, but I know damn well that 95% of the ones I've seen since...the makers have most likely never even heard of me. To claim that it's my design and they copied it would be silly...as would most other makers claiming the same thing of their own. That said, if they DID know of my work before making their own...professional courtesy would probably dictate that they find their own signature shape to run with lol.

 

Again, it comes down to ethics more than actual legality.

 

To put it into perspective...my first (and only) folding knife was a friction folder. I ABSOLUTELY searched every online venue I had access to for ideas and specifics in how they work and are made. But, when the time came to make my own, I made it my way, with my own aesthetic sense and personality. Are there other knives out there that look just like mine? Probably somewhere...but I've never seen one, and if I had...I'd probably have made it different. But even with that distinction...it's a friction folder lol...there's only so much that can be changed to make it my own.

 

I hope that makes sense.

Edited by C.Anderson
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Most folders have a similar design. Making one as an exact copy of another maker's knife to sell to someone else however...is unethical in my eyes. Now, buying a knife from another maker, and making a replacement blade would be fine, as long as you didn't claim credit for the entirety of the project. Some makers might even be willing to sell you unfinished knives for you to put your blades in. I think that's getting a bit off of your topic though.

 

The thing about it is...most of us go through a learning curve when we start into a new area of work. Those learning curve blades aren't always particularly valuable in terms of money...but they're invaluable to your learning process. I would have no qualms in taking apart another person's knives to see HOW they work...but I would absolutely take their design and customize it to my own aesthetic or performance specifications.

 

On your example of a Loveless drop point, trust me...Bob Loveless isn't the first one to make that overall blade shape. Knives have been being made for thousands of years...and anyone who claims to be an originator of a specific shape is probably fooling themselves. I've seen many guys who make kitchen knives with a long curved choil area, and a sweeping dropped spine like mine. Mine were the first I remember seeing, but I know damn well that 95% of the ones I've seen since...the makers have most likely never even heard of me. To claim that it's my design and they copied it would be silly...as would most other makers claiming the same thing of their own. That said, if they DID know of my work before making their own...professional courtesy would probably dictate that they find their own signature shape to run with lol.

 

Again, it comes down to ethics more than actual legality.

 

To put it into perspective...my first (and only) folding knife was a friction folder. I ABSOLUTELY searched every online venue I had access to for ideas and specifics in how they work and are made. But, when the time came to make my own, I made it my way, with my own aesthetic sense and personality. Are there other knives out there that look just like mine? Probably somewhere...but I've never seen one, and if I had...I'd probably have made it different. But even with that distinction...it's a friction folder lol...there's only so much that can be changed to make it my own.

 

I hope that makes sense.

 

You explained it perfectly. Perhaps I'm over thinking this. Ethics and honesty are high up on my list of morals and I just want to do the right thing here. The area I bolded in your response would be what I intend to do. Thank you sir!

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For me, the line is simply whether the design is recognizable by knowledgable folks as "not mine"...I've turned down custom requests that were too derivative (a request to do a "Tom Brown Tracker" copy comes to mind...besides being extremely recognizable and probably patented, I don't actually understand the design, either...lol :blink: ). On the other hand, a huge amount of traditional knife designs are just so simple and functional...it's pretty hard to make, say, a kitchen knife, without approaching other designs pretty closely.

 

When making folders, I've found it very useful to make mockups of the parts using card or heavy paper. Cut the pieces out, use a thumbtack as a pivot, and you can actually fold up the mockup to see how everything fits. It tends to become real obvous which aspects have to stay, and which can be modified a bit. Once the parts line up in open and closed positions, you can glue the paper cutouts to your stock with rubber cement and use them as a cutting guide, too.

Edited by Orien M
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I would agree in the fact that studying another's designs to learn with is one thing most of the knives I make when they do get done are all simplistic in design drop point and straight backs along with a few wharncliffes

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  • 3 months later...

I have a similar question as well. Let's say there is a Bladesmith who uses designs found in historical settings. Let's say a rifleman's knife or a frontier era knife based on the design used in those specific time periods. He is very good at crafting these blades, and he has a well known mark. Is it ethically/legally wrong to make a knife based on the same design/line? Can that person raise hell and say, "That dude copied my work!"?

My opinion would be that replicating the design of a blade that is historically accurate shouldn't be criticized.

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The shape of the blade is what makes the style, i dont believe many have come up with with an original shape that hasnt been created in history yet within the last few decades. However the folder they were refering to has internal parts and an assisted opening design that maybe original and even patented.

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