Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse, HSN Being Sued by German Knife Makers

Categories: Famous Foodies
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david_shankbone via Flickr
Let me tell you a little something about Germans: they take their jobs seriously. When students there are about 16 years old, they get sorted into different educational tracks -- those expected to go on to college go to one type of high school called gymnasium, while others are moved into apprenticeships and then trades.

For instance, if you want to be a baker, you don't just whip up some bread and waddle down to the local greenmarket and hope someone buys it. No -- you have to train for like eleventy billion years and pass some tests and then maybe you can be an assistant baker. (Yes, I am exaggerating, but my sister has lived there her whole life and she explained this all to me in great detail once.) 

This system might seem like a giant pain in the hoo-ha to us, but there the result is an incredibly high level of craftsmanship in every industry. The town where my sister is from is known for its puzzles, for instance, and those too, are taken very, very seriously. The Germans are a serious people.

So, when a collective of German knife makers in a town called Solingen saw that the Home Shopping Network (HSN) was hawking knives that were stamped "Solingen" on one side but "China" on the other side, they were all "Oh hell, no!" (Or maybe, "Scheisse!")
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Now they are suing for $24 million.

You see, according to information from the plaintiffs (technically known as "Chamber of Industry and Commerce Wuppertal - Solingen - Remscheid"), "cutlery and blades of all kinds have been manufactured in Solingen for eight centuries." Cutlery made in Solingen must meet certain high standards as designated by German law under the "Solingen decree." (I am not making this up.) High-end knife brands Henckels and Wüsthof are two companies that meet these standards and whose cutlery is marked accordingly.

But HSN was allegedly hawking the counterfeit goods as having come from Solingen -- making the city look like it produced crappy product.(No offense to the Chinese, it's just that we've never heard of any special knife-making legislation going on there.) 

So the Solingen peeps are now going after "Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc., Emeril Lagasse, his companies, Home Shopping Network, and SED International Holdings, Inc., for willful federal trademark infringement and counterfeiting, false designation of origin and common law unfair competition."

There are 12 different "accused products" at issue here. Plaintiffs are going after Emeril because he has personally hawked these knives on TV, and they have his Emeril brand name imprinted on them. They are going after Martha Stewart because her company bought the Emeril brand in 2008

The lawsuit was initially filed in September, but lawyers for Solingen say it was not served at that time. It was filed and served in November. On December 5, defendants submitted an answer to the complaint. It states, "Defendants admit that ... they are not licensed to use the SOLINGEN certification mark. Defendants are aware... that the cutlery in question utilizes German 4116 steel, and defendant SED believes that the cutlery is at least in part manufactured in China, but otherwise defendants lack sufficient information to admit or deny allegations as to how and where said cutlery is made." 

The complaint noted that "Lagasse wrote a foreword in a book on knives that has a copyright of 2008 in which he admits to visiting the knife museum in Solingen, Germany, and stating that "[i]t was on that visit that I realized knives had an incredible history worth studying and getting involved in."  

In the answer to the complaint, Emeril claims to have "no recollection of authoring said foreword."

So, questions remain: Were these knives made in Germany or China? Is the steel, at least, German? Who is to blame for the confusion? Was it an innocent mistake, or a sinister plan to make profits, profits, profits?  Who's writing forewards for Emeril? Will tourists stop flocking to Solingen, the "city of blades"? Can you trust the origins of anything hawked on HSN? When will Emeril's show about Florida cooking come out, and will he be baking any flamingo nuggets? 

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