In our last couple of posts, we examined the subject of spurious guns. We will study the topic further in this post.
As we saw in the last couple of posts, many of these firearms were stamped with names very similar to those of well-known and reputable manufacturers. Since trademark laws weren't as strict then as they are now, it was considered completely legal in some jurisdictions. The same idea is now seen in China these days, where they sell knock-off goods with names similar to well-known companies ("Sorny" instead of "Sony", "Polystation" instead of "Playstation", "iPed" instead of "iPad", "Pizza Huh" instead of "Pizza Hut" etc.)
So why did they do it? For this, we go to W.W. Greener's The Gun and Its Development, 9th edition, which is now in the public domain. In his words:
From the affluent position most of these dealers and getters-up of spurious guns enjoy, makers of reputation prefer to suffer rather than engage in what they know must be a disagreeable and very probably a most disastrous prosecution. The author believes that he alone has instituted criminal proceedings for this species of forgery; the result being the imprisonment of the offender. And although the method of procedure is distasteful and expensive, the author appeals to those who have been deluded into the purchase of a forged Greener gun to communicate with him at once, in order that an effort be made to stop this nefarious trade.
What this means is that trademark laws weren't strong enough at that time to prevent this practice and many reputable manufacturers didn't think that they could win the case. Note that the author mentions that he won one of the cases, not that he won multiple cases. Therefore, offenders could use this method of evading trademark laws without much fear of consequences.
However, this wasn't the only way that many people skirted trademark laws. Mr. Greener also goes on to mention another deceitful practice:
There is another more subtle form of deceit commonly practiced in Liege and on the Continent. It consists of engraving the gun conspicuously with the name of the patentee of one of the parts of the mechanism. The most notable instances are "Greener" upon cross-bolt guns, and "S&W" upon the Smith & Wesson type of revolver. In a case tested before the Belgian courts the defense advanced was that the weapons were of the type associated with the plaintiff's name, and that the name was intended to refer to the system, not to the maker, of the weapon. When "Greener" is put in bold gilt letters on the top rib, and other words, if any, in small insignificant characters, the name is certainly misleading, whatever the intention; but unfortunately there is no way of stopping the practice.
In Great Britain, under the new Merchandise Marks Act, makers of spurious guns may now be prosecuted; and the sooner the chief clauses of this Act are made international law, the better it will be for foreign sportsmen. In the British colonies, the sportsman is fairly protected by law: but probably the most flagrant instance of trading in spurious guns occurred at Melbourne, where a Jewish firm of gun importers, in a very large way of business, selling to all the Australian colonies, had long practiced a most impudent fraud. If a customer inquired for any well-known make of gun, an unnamed Belgian gun was forthwith stamped with the name of the maker demanded, and usually a sale completed. For making such unwarrantable use of the author's trade name an action was brought, in the year 1895, and the author was awarded £5,500 damages; but it is doubtful whether this covered more than a fraction of the real injury wrought, and was, of course, no reparation to the sportsmen who had been deluded into purchasing spurious weapons. Unfortunately the defendants appealed against the verdict, and litigation proceeded for more than a year afterwards. The evidence obtained showed that many of the best-known firearms manufacturers had been victimized by this one firm, four members of which were subsequently prosecuted criminally and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
This method of evading trademark laws is no longer possible in most westernized countries these days, as the trademark laws have become more strict.