The Everyday Carry (EDC) community, and especially the subset Knife Community has to examine the complex topic of clones and counterfeits. Knives are a blade and some type of handle. Since there isn’t much to a knife, many knives will have similar design choices. Add to that there are only so many ways that a blade can be shaped and the types of designs get smaller. Handles are even more difficult, as there are even fewer handle shapes. There are three main categories when it comes to knives that are not an original design.
The first category is a counterfeit. A counterfeit is an exact copy of a knife which includes branding. It is designed to trick people into thinking the knife they are buying is authentic. Sometimes, the fake knife comes with paperwork. Most counterfeit knives come from China. Many of those knives come with low grade stainless steel that is incorrectly marked on the blade. Some counterfeits are high quality fakes and they use a better grade steel and can be nearly indistinguishable from the real knife. Sites like Alibaba (Aliexpress) and DH Gate are popular places to purchase such knives. However, eBay and Amazon do have the occasional counterfeit. It is generally accepted that the selling of counterfeits is morally wrong, because the purpose of the manufacturing of the counterfeit is to deceive the buyer. There is also the fact that the counterfeiter is wrongfully using the other knife companies branding and designs.
Before addressing the second category a point should be made. Patent and copyright laws aren’t international in nature. Since most counterfeit knives come from China, it should be noted that US laws relating to design and branding of knives aren’t applicable in China. Therefore, making a counterfeit Spyderco isn’t illegal to do in China. The issue to purchase a knife that is a copy or similar to another knife is a moral choice. And man is a creature governed by their own conscience. It isn’t right or proper for me to attempt to enforce my morality on you. Just as it is wrong for you to attempt to the same to me.
The second category is a clone. Clones can be the exact dimension or have the same blade to handle proportion of the knife that it is based on. Clones differ from counterfeits in that they have their own branding. Popular clone brands are Sanrenmu, Cima, Ganzo, Kubey, Enlan and Eafengrow. These knives are easily purchased at GearBest, Amazon or Ebay. The purchase of a clone is morally ambiguous. Some in the community are wholly against such purchases, because they feel that the manufacturer has stolen the design or elements of the authentic knives. Other in the community feel that because the manufacturer isn’t utilizing branding or because the clone doesn’t have exactly the same design elements as the original knife. Examples of designs that are copied is the Sanrenmu 910 Land which is nearly identical to the Chris Reeves Sebenza 21 or the Ganzo F759 which is very close in design to the Bryd Meadowlark 2. Examples of design elements that have been copied are: the Benchmade axis lock, the Spyderco Spyder Hole or the Spyderco compression lock.
One area of contention is the Benchmade axis lock. In reality the axis lock was actually only licensed to Benchmade. The original patent owners were William J. McHenry and Jason L. Williams. Their patent (US5737841A) was granted in 1998 and was transferred to the Mentor Group LLC. This patent covered the deployment and retraction of manual and automatic folders with an axis lock system and expired in April 2018. Therefore, any manual or automatic knives utilizing the axis lock are able to be made without patent infringement.
The third category is homage knives. These knives incorporate elements from different knives in an attempt to make a knife that has the best of both worlds. An example of this is the Dave Larsen Custom Model 1-5 Homage Fighting Knife which is a borrows blade shape and the guard from the Randall Model 1, but takes a new twist on handle ergonomics and materials. In many cases, these knife makers have the blessing of the original designer.
As you can see the topic of counterfeits, clones and homage knives isn’t black and white. It is up to each member of the community to be guided by his or her own conscience and to make choices that are morally correct for themselves. That said we should always strive to buy authentic knives, and never settle for someone passing off counterfeits. However, with clones and homage knives we shouldn’t be so quick to judge a brother or sister because they like knives that are similar to another knife. If we disagree in these areas we should lovingly lead them along as a friend and encourage them to buy from brands like Benchmade, Spyderco, Microtech, etc. We should also see things from their perspective. Perhaps they would love to own a Spyderco Paramilitary 2, but have a wife and two kids to support, and all they can afford is the Ganzo G729.
In conclusion, I would say the best choice is to purchase an originally designed knife from a reputable dealer.