Friday, January 20, 2017

The Story Behind the Greatest Knife of All Time

The Natrix is certainly not the best knife of all time.  It runs a budget steel and has nothing nicer than G10 for handle materials.  But best and greatest are different.  To me, greatest has an element of narrative power to it--someone's exploits might be technically amazing, but when there is a dash of storytelling to them, that, to me, is when they become the stuff of legends--something great.  And there is plenty of story to the Natrix.


It starts with the Zero Tolerance ZT0777, the first of the Triple Ubers.  These three knives--the ZT0777, ZT0888, and ZT0999 have all pushed what is possible in knife making.  Each was a new high water mark, an achievement in the craft of cutlery.  The ZT0777 tried to do something that literally only KAI USA could do.  You see, they have the patent on brazed blades, that is the composite process that results in a spine of one steel and the cutting edge of another.  In the case of ZT0777 they were attempting to make a composite of Damascus and another steel.  Even if there wasn't a patent on the brazing process, to this day, no one, custom or production, has attempted this feat.  

But as is often the case when you push the envelope, it sometimes pushes back.  The process of making the ZT0777 was difficult and in the end only a handful of the composite blade versions were released.  The run was finished out with M390 blades.  But KAI USA tried for a very long time.  During that trial and error period, Microtech, maker of autos of all kind, decided to blatantly copy the ZT0777 and released their version, with the much less ambitious blade steel (Elmax, if I remeber correctly), as the Matrix.  When word got out, the knife world went, justifiably, bananas.  

One thing that people don't seem to understand in the knife world, is that designs cannot be subject to intellectual property protection, either patents or trademarks.  Patents are designed to protect inventions and trademarks are designed to protect branding elements (logos, symbols, and wordmarks...very rarely sounds too).  A knife design, how it looks, is neither an invention nor a branding element.  So it may be possible to patent a locking mechanism, which happens all of the time (and is relevant later in the story of the Natrix), but it is not possible to patent a knife design.  I suppose a sufficiently complex and different knife might be eligible for patent protection, something like the Caswell Linkage karambit, but it would a rarity.  And so, when Anthony Marifone and Microtech blantantly stole the design for the ZT0777, despite the hew and cry online, there was little KAI USA could do.  They had to watch while a lesser maker simply ripped them off.  

When they decided to make the ZT0770, a smaller, tamer version of the ZT0777, they again were beat to market by Marifone the intellectual property thief.  Microtech released the Mini Matrix.  Eventually both knives faded out of Microtech's line and I don't believe either were especially good sellers, but it was an episode that did real harm to the knife business.  Makers complain about their designs being ripped off by Kevin Johns and the Chinese, but here we have someone in America doing something just as bad.  In my mind it is worse because unlike the folks at Kevin Johns, Marfione has the talent and capacity to make something better, he just chooses not to.  Stealing other people's good ideas is easier, apparently.

And this was not the end to Marfione's pilfery of KAI USA's good ideas.  ZT introduced a variant on the framelock, call the subframe lock, on the ZT0777 as well

 and has since been incorporated into designs all across the KAI USA line up.*  Well, Marfione's laziness and greed got the better of him and he copied the subframe lock and released it on his knives.  But this time he stole an invention, one that was subject to intellectual property protection, and KAI called him on it.  After a lawyer letter to Microtech from KAI USA, they ceased making the subframe lock.  But again, it is a sign of Marfione's nature--three times he has stolen from KAI.  

So when I got my press preview of the Kershaw 2017 line up I saw the Natrix and I literally laughed out loud.  Matrix--Natrix...HA!  Is it a portmanteau for Not Matrix?  Maybe....Sitting in my home office, at around 10:30 PM, I chuckled.  Kershaw is producing a copy of a rip off of the ZT0777.  Talk about making lemonade...But then I read the copy in the catalog more closely and it is clear that they are taking aim at Marfione--they mention someone really liking the design.  That is GREAT!  

But there is a deeper level here, one that confirms for me that this is the greatest knife story, and knife, of all time.  Being a fan of dinosaurs has led me to an appreciation for taxonomy and I remembered in the crevices of my brain the word "natrix."  After a chat with a fellow in the know, I had full recall--Natrix is the genus of a snake, in particular, a group of grass snakes.  So here you have the Natrix, a knife aimed at Anthony Marfione, and it is named after a snake in the grass.  How wonderfully delicious!

In life, as adults, we rarely get the chance to give someone their comeuppance.  Growing up is a process of learning how to move on from folks that are assholes and jerks to you, knowing that seeking vengeance is expensive and rarely healthy.  But sometimes the stars align and you get that chance.  This is KAI USA's chance.  This is a clear broadside aimed at Marfione.  I wish them all of the luck in the world.  

And so I am going to go buy my Natrix, not because I am all that interested in the knife, but because I want to show support for KAI USA in their battle against lesser craftsmen that act like theives.  It sucks to have stuff stolen.  It is worse when you get punished for trying to achieve greatness.  But it is awesome that you get to make a profit on giving some snake his comeuppance.

The Kershaw Natrix--the greatest knife of all time.  Oh and #fuckthematrix

CORRECTION: I erroneously wrote that the ZT0454 was the first sub frame lock.  It was the ZT0777.  Here is how the sentence originally read: "It first came to market on the ZT0454 and has since been incorporated into designs all across the KAI USA line up."  The corrected portion is followed by an asterisk. 

50 comments:

  1. This post completely sold me on buying one as well! What an amazing story, the knife earns its keep for that alone!

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  2. I really love this story. I didnt realize what natrix meant when I saw the product lineup from shot show. Great article!

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  3. Thanks for pointing this out, I had no idea of the backstory.

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  5. Great story. I couldnt believe the name myself when I first heard it, but I love that KAI went there.

    A small correction: the sub-frame lock was actually introduced on the 0777 itself, not the 0454.

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    1. Correct. The Matrix had a stolen sub frame lock as well. The Kershaw Knockout was the first to market though with one.

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    2. This is correct. Sorry for the error.

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  6. Hahah this needs to be shared and shared again. I too will buy and review this knife!

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  7. Such a delicious middle finger to a ripoff and a thief.

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  8. So good, so satisfying and so ballsy. I was chuckling when I read the description on knife news, then laughing when I saw their ad copy, and back to laughing after I learned that Natrix = snake in the grass. Just so well done on so many levels.

    Ill definitely be buying one if for nothing else than to support their sweet sweet revenge.

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  9. Awesome. Good detective work, Tony.

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  10. Wasnt the subframelock already patented when the 0777 was released? Either way, it was a huge middle finger to Microtech. I love it!

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    1. They applied for the patent either just before or just after the debut of the 0777. It didnt get approved until summer of 2016.

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  11. Composite blades (CB) are not unique to KAI even though their technique is. Spyderco had a CB ParaMilitary2 which I have and theyre coming out with a CB Manix2. I also have a Fox Nero Nighthawk.

    Marfione Custom Matrix is still being made!

    You said subframe lock came later in 0454 but in fact it was in the 0777.

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    1. Composite or laminated blades are not unique to KAI, sure, but theres no suggestion otherwise in the article. Im not sure who youre arguing with.

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    2. There is a difference between a laminated and composite blade. A laminated blade is a steel "sandwich", a blade with a core and two (or more) outer layers around the core. In a composite blade there are stacks of steel, one of which is the edge and another of which is the spine steel. The ZT0454 actually had three layers brazed together with copper. KAI has a patent on the brazing composite blade. On the other hand folks have been making laminated blades for thousands of years.

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    3. Pretty sure what hes saying is that the Fox Nero Nighthawk uses an at least similar process to the "brazed blade" where the spine of the Nero was titanium and the edge was N690Co

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  12. Funny this petty shot at Microtech is after ZT specifically stated that their patent trolling wasnt targeted in retaliation for the spat with Microtech.
    I own versions of both of these knives and one of the ironic parts is that this is over a knife ZT pre sold and then couldnt actually figure out how to deliver. On the flip side, the Microtech versions I have are vastly better made than the consolation version Z finally settled on producing.

    Every time I hear this story told, it is done using anecdotal sourcing with no input from or mention of attempt to obtain the other parties side of the story. Most of the time, the only source seems to be the likeness of the knives and a clear personal bias on the part of the author against Microtech. No matter how you cut it, the attempt at journalism is the most amateurish part of this story

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    1. So your point is the reporting is bad because your rip-off copy of a ZT design is, in your opinion, a better made knife?

      Class act there, "unknown"....

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  13. Funny this petty shot at Microtech is after ZT specifically stated that their patent trolling wasnt targeted in retaliation for the spat with Microtech.
    I own versions of both of these knives and one of the ironic parts is that this is over a knife ZT pre sold and then couldnt actually figure out how to deliver. On the flip side, the Microtech versions I have are vastly better made than the consolation version Z finally settled on producing.

    Every time I hear this story told, it is done using anecdotal sourcing with no input from or mention of attempt to obtain the other parties side of the story. Most of the time, the only source seems to be the likeness of the knives and a clear personal bias on the part of the author against Microtech. No matter how you cut it, the attempt at journalism is the most amateurish part of this story

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    1. Unfortunately you do not know what you are talking about. First, as a lawyer I can review IP law myself and taking information from case law regarding IP law is not anecdotal. In fact I challenge you to find a story on a major news site that is written by a lawyer investigating a legal issue--not a story written by a reporter who interviews a lawyer. Thats the first thing you got wrong.

      Second, I had a long 3 hour interview with Thomas W of KAI in which he discussed this issue. Thats not exactly an anecdote. Furthermore, that interview was published in its entirety on the podcast, unedited. If you want to hear what he said, you can listen to it yourself, 100% unedited. Second point you get wrong.

      Just because I dont need input from Microtech, doesnt mean its anecdotal. People mistake the need to hear from both sides as being the same as fair reporting. I dont need to get the opinion of a self-proclaimed mass murderer like Jared Lee Loughner to know what he did was wrong.

      Third, patent trolling is exactly the opposite of what KAI USA did. If you had any experience or familiarity with litigating IP issues you would know that the heart of a patent trolls arsenal is a law suit. KAI USA did the exact opposite and sent a cease and desist letter. They could have sued, but they chose not to. Not exactly trolling. The term patent troll references the fairy tales in which a troll under a bridge exacts a price for crossing the bridge. Here KAIs actions asked for NOTHING. They just said "stop it." Not patent trolling at all.

      Finally, I posted a call to Microtech and Anthony Marfione on IG to say whatever he wants in response to this article. Lets see what happens.

      I am fairly tolerant of any feedback posted here, even stuff that insults me, but every word you wrote and every argument you put forward here was wrong and without factual basis. That said, Ill make the same offer to you--write whatever you want about this and I will publish it unedited. I may comment on it, but it will be unedited.

      As for the quality of the two, the market prices indicate a strong disagreement with you comparing the production Matrix to the ZT0777.

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    2. Also, after posting this I have received more information from the Microtech side of things. Nothing I have been told has changed my opinion.

      I think this officially puts to bed any of the criticism leveled above.

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  14. Well described. As mentioned, the 777 was the first with sub-frame lock, but close enough. I intend to give Natrix out to my friends, also to show support for Kai and to step on the snake in the grass.

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  15. This knife gave me a hearty laugh the second I saw it and the name. This may well become my standard gift folder for years to come, just to support this classy, "Screw you."

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  16. I concur with the story and sentiments you portrayed above. Im going to be buying a few natrixs for family and friends. Ill spry this F-U all day every day.

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  17. Absolutely hilarious! This is a well deserved F-U that Ill support all day long. I plan on purchasing a few of these for family and friends. I think somebody should help Tony pick his jaw up of the floor after reading the 2017 Kershaw catalog! Well played KAI!

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  18. I also love that they undercut microtech on price and made it a budget knife. I hope these get into sports and outdoor stores everywhere. It is a great design that can stand on its own, the fact that its also a giant middle finger makes it even better

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  19. It is true that Tony took the 0777 design and brought it to market before ZT, and that he was able to engineer the knife better than ZT ever could. The side of the story that no one ever mentions is that ZT tried to rip off the Scarab OTF design first, and Tony came out with the Matrix as a screw you to ZT.

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    1. I have heard this rumor before, but I can find no evidence of its truth. In the end, there was no KAI Scarab, but there was a Microtech ZT0777. And ZT0770. And a Microtech Subframe Lock.

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    2. Additionally, the Scarab is not exactly the most distinctive design. To say that there was a KAI Scarab in the works could mean that they simply wanted to do a single edge out the front.

      Either way, I can find nothing to support this claim. And as I wrote on IG, Id be happy to post anything anyone can find that can be verified, with Microtechs side of the story, unedited.

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    3. KAI had a prototype OTF at Blade one year. It was just an OTF, not a Scarab ripoff. It was never put into production. I guess that means we should see Tony ripping off the Hawks and Benchmade someday since they also make OTFs...

      Did Steyr make an OTF once? Maybe thats why Microtech made that horrific AUG ripoff for a few years...

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    5. Thats not the whole story. The internals are actually what is identical to a scarab. But It was a prototype and the internal design of a scarab is based on a mikov design anyways. It was never tonys IP.

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    6. The internals was where they were identical. But it was a prototype and nothing was final. Besides tonys internal design is a rip off of mikovs mechanism. Tony has made a living ripping people off. He has stolen more designs than he has create. And oddly enough his stolen designs are the only ones that go on to be big hits.

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    7. How could you know the I ternals are identical? Have you handled the knife and seen it disassembled?

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  20. Normally I wouldnt consider a non USA made knife with "value" steel. I am totally getting this knife. Great article.

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  21. You are completely wrong about the ability to protect the visual design of a knife. The USPTO issues thousands of design patents. https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/patent-basics/types-patent-applications/design-patent-application-guide

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    1. This is complicated, but generally design patents are not available to things like knives because of the legal requirement of design distinct from function. This is why I said something like the Caswell Karambit might be patentable--it is unique enough to qualify for a patent and ornamental enough to qualify for a design patent. If you look at the case law in Apple v. Samsung, you will see just how different a design needs to be in order to qualify for a design patent. Most knives have too many function-only elements to qualify for this kinds of patent.

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    2. How many knife design patents would you like me to list?

      It is very common. Kershaw made a decision not to patent this design.

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/b7495dc361b889dff609/USD553916.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/0745f1f8f062793994a4/USD365266.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/b7061476939a88f946fe/USD584377.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/82fea36c192170b17e81/USD610896.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/127b7cab779219501de8/USD627618.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/2a82c64856aabe8fc49e/USD639632.pdf

      https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/e9270bbda7bb19a92ea1/USD384871.pdf

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    3. I think you are missing the point here--getting a patent and defending a patent, especially a design patent--are two different things. My understanding is that design patents are notoriously difficult to defend in litigation and so a patent in a design may not be worth the paper it is written on. An invention patent, on the other hand, is more defensible and thus more valuable.

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    4. I am responding to your point in the 4th paragraph.... " One thing that people dont seem to understand in the knife world, is that designs cannot be subject to intellectual property protection, either patents or trademarks."
      Yes the value of a design patent is questionable. But design patents do exist and are regularly considered as part of a companies IP portfolio. Dont mislead your readers with false information. It makes us question the credibility of the entire article.

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    5. If that was all I wrote, I feel like your objection would carry more weight, but in the very next sentence I explained what I meant. It seems like angels on the head of pin to say you can get a patent and it is worthless OR you cant get a meaningful patent.

      Additionally, having talked to a lot of folks that run cutlery companies about this issue over the years from AG Russell to Zero Tolerance, I can tell you my objection to design patents is largely the reason they dont bother, or more accurately, largely the reason their counsel dont bother.

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    6. I agree with your objection to the value of design patents. The point I am making is that you state "... but it is not possible to patent a knife design." It clearly is possible and you are very reluctant to admit this is not a factual statement. Be honest with your readers and they will trust and value your statements.

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    7. I think it is telling that a) you concede that I was right for all practical purposes; and b) you keep narrowing the quote you use. I feel like this is a law school argument, one where technically you are right if my comments are taken out of context but both practically and in context I am correct.

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  22. I love this last line on the Kershaw page for the knife.

    Now the next time you see this famous knife profile, it will be from a manufacturer that has a right to the design: us.

    :)

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  23. Tony,

    Two last corrections. The first Sub-Framelock produced by KAI was actually the 1870 Knockout, which is still produced today. The 0777 was the second design incorporating this feature. Also, design patents do exist, but they can be notoriously hard to enforce. Utility patents cover mechanisms and other functional concepts, and typically provide greater protection.

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    1. The ZT0777 was shown before the Knockout, but your right, the Knockout was first to market. Unless you count the Matrix.

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  24. eh, Microtech makes excellent knives. I wish the consumer would see more socom deltas for purchase, but evidently kai put a stop to that. I am on neither side.

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  25. Thanks for the back story. Even though the last thing I need is another knife, I have to buy a Natrix.

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