Not in harmony

Blog still a shambles? Yes. (Conversion tool… oh, right, I meant to put that up.) Knitting not progressed? Not very much at all. A new story? Perhaps.

Do you know those multicoloured knitting needles–those ones made from a laminate composed of different coloured layers?

Who makes them?

… okay, then. Who made them first?

The fact that KnitPick’s popular Harmony needles, cut on an angle from a multicoloured composite laminate, were preceded by Grafton Fibers’s Darn Pretty Needles is not a new discovery. Grafton (now Dyakcraft) had been selling their needles for a while before they were “harlotted” in mid-2007. Dyakcraft had already been in the business of selling small weaving looms, which they called Harmony Looms, for a few years as well.

Of course, given the popularity of KnitPicks, thanks to their competitively-priced yarn, there are probably a lot of knitters out there who believe that Dyakcraft copied KnitPicks unless they have the opportunity to be put right by others who frequented carefully-curated yarn shops or shopped with artisans rather than mass-producers prior to the introduction of Harmony needles. This sort of mistake on the part of the consumer is not unusual when a smaller producer is outsold by a larger company.

The appearance of the Harmony needles must be of significant importance to Crafts Americana, the KnitPicks parent company. Indeed, last year they filed a U.S. trademark application for the appearance, or trade dress, of their multicoloured laminate needles. They also filed a trademark application (since registered) for HARMONY for use in association with knitting needles…

You know where this is going, don’t you? If you do, your prior education regarding STITCH ‘N’ BITCH has served you well.

Dyakcraft has started two proceedings against Crafts Americana: a cancellation proceeding against the registered HARMONY mark, and an opposition proceeding against the application for the needle’s appearance. You can see the statements of opposition for yourself here:

Needle trade dress – notice of opposition (PDF)
HARMONY wordmark – notice of oppositiong (PDF)

The story (from Dyakcraft’s point of view) is pretty clearly set out in their opposition to the needles: the sales of Grafton’s “chevron pattern” needles since 2004 in the U.S., the coverage in national yarn trade publications in 2007, the initial contact from Crafts Americana after the needles had been “harlotted” in July 2007, and the offer from Crafts Americana to buy rights in the needle design after the USPTO cited Darn Pretty Needles against them. A copy of Crafts Americana’s proposed assignment and non-sublicensable licence back to Dyakcrafts (permitting them to continue selling their own needles) is even included as an exhibit to the needle opposition.

Some of this information had already been publicized by Dyakcraft already, at least on Ravelry: check out this thread in the bone yard from posts 1617 to 1688. The thread sparked an interesting debate about the realities of supporting small businesses vs. larger discounters, whether KnitPicks “stole” the idea from Grafton Fibers (as it then was), and corporate and individual consumer ethics. Some value judgments were possibly passed based on the poster’s means: if the customer would never have purchased the completely Vermont- and artisinal-made product because of the price, and would only have purchased a product mass-produced offshore because of the lower costs, was there any harm to the artisan?

One poster (maybe presciently) observed that nobody had a trademark on a certain type of wood for making needles. That’s true–it is not the function or the process that is at issue here, since that is not the sort of thing that trademarks protect–but the resultant appearance, perhaps with similar colours in a similar arrangement, is the right sort of subject matter. Are the differences between the KnitPicks needles and the Darn Pretty needles sufficiently distinctive? What impact should the offer to purchase the rights have on the trademark application?

Crafts Americana’s response is due on July 11.

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22 Responses to Not in harmony

  1. emy says:

    So glad to see your blog up and running again. I thought you have vanished from blog land!

  2. A Knitter says:

    Being that this case is trying to prevent KP’s trademarking the name “Harmony” as it applies to their wood needles, doesn’t that only mean others with these types of needles can’t market them as “Harmony” needles? I really don’t understand how this affects DK’s business. Those with the desire and the means of acquiring the “Darn Pretty Needles” (which I had never heard of until coming to this blog) will not be prevented buying them, unless KP’s trademarking extends to an actual patent on the wood itself, which they can’t do because it is a product from another company.

    I own a set of Options in the Harmony tips. And I appreciate others who have the good fortune to be able to use both these and the “Darn Pretty Needles” and can give good comparisons, because I cannot afford to. At this point all I can say is that I aspire to be one among you as I knit happily along with my KP’s Harmony needles. As for the confusion between the name of DK’s “Harmony” to something that isn’t a knitting needle, again, I don’t see how this can hold up in court.

    I understand the emotions of the idea of one small business seemingly hurting a smaller, niche artisan business. I also understand how one finds KP’s actions shady and unfair. But unless DK produced and manufactured the wood used in their product and patented it, they really have no leg to stand on unless KP’s marketed their wooden needles as “Damn Pretty Needles”, or “Darn Pretty Things”, etc.

  3. Hugh Mannity says:

    Now I’ll admit to being slightly biased — I’ve known Tom and Linda for a good few years now. I also own several sets of rosewood DPNs and even a couple of circs in the contested multicolour format.

    I’ve only bought yarn from KnitPicks once — and that was because it was specifically requested by the recipient — and I won’t be buying any more.

    Life’s tough enough for small businesses and independent craftspeople without big business picking on them.

  4. Linda says:

    I have a set of KP harmony needles. I could not afford the Darn Pretty needles. I’ve purchased other things from KP. I wrote to them after reading about this subject the other day. I asked them to remove my name from all mailing lists and I told them that the reason was the trademark issue. I have nevenr spent a fortune with them but I hope that my action and informing them of the reason might send a message. Maybe others will do the same.

  5. A number of years ago a friend of mine came up with a chew toy for dogs made out of faux lambswool and cut in shapes, the most popular being one that looked like a fluffy gingerbread man. If memory serves, he did try to patent and protect it as “Chewman,” but within an appallingly short period of time it was knocked off by a major player and actually labeled “Vermont Chew Toy” or some such thing.

    It still makes me angry. They couldn’t have cut their copy in a different shape even? I mean, come on.. get your own ideas!

  6. fibercrone says:

    I was buying Darn Pretties early on and the quality is better than the ones KnitPicks sells. The finish is nicer, the points pointier and Tom is delightful to talk to. (Actually, I prefer his solid needles over the multi-colored ones. My fantasy, and I’ve mentioned this to Tom, is a sock set with each size color-coded.)

    I’m glad you posted this as I didn’t know about Crafts Americana’s actions but I’m also not surprised because I knew what they did to KPixie. The big difference is dealing with an artisan, a craftsman versus dealing with a company that is only about making money. Personally, I buy Darn Pretties

  7. Metta says:

    I have 2 sets of the Grafton Fiber Darn Pretty Needles & I love them so much. I knew that KP’s were just copies as soon as they began advertising them. I agree with everything you’ve said about the KP-knock offs & would never buy them. I have more needles than anyone needs, but am always on the hunt for something unique & beautiful. I hope Dyakcraft wins this round. KP’s should at least have to acknowledge the fact that their stuff is for those who can’t (won’t?) pay the price of the original and higher quality items!
    Thanks for bringing this forward!

  8. Bethany says:

    I saw this link on another knitting forum and felt compelled to comment…

    I don’t see how either company can lay claim to that “chevron” appearance of the needles. Lots of stuff made out of Dymondwood has that same chevron, which isn’t surprising because you can buy turning blanks that were specifically cut so they produce that nice chevron pattern when you turn them.

    To my (un-legally-educated) mind, it seems similar to two people buying self-striping sock yarn from the same third party and then arguing over which them owns the stripe pattern of the resulting socks. Neither company invented the “chevron” pattern of the needles. Like self-striping sock yarn, the material the needles were made from was specifically designed by the manufacturer (and not by the end users) to produce that chevron pattern when turned.

    If they’re ordering custom colorways then they maybe the could claim to own the colorway? (I’m sure Knitpicks is, I don’t know if Dyakcraft is or if they’re using standard colorways.) But the Knitpicks colorway doesn’t appear to be identical to any of the Dyakcraft colorways. I mean, the color combination Knitpicks chose is multi-colored and garish, as are several of the Dyakcraft colorways, but I don’t know that you can claim a trademark on that… garish color combinations are as typical of Dymondwood products as that chevron pattern is! :-) (Do a Google image search and you’ll see what I mean.)

  9. Lisa S says:

    Thank you for alerting the tribe. It is one thing to have a deep pockets company copy your work and another for them to shove this fact in your face with this copyright monstrosity. Coming up through many years of high end craft shows, I have witnessed artisans try to fight a larger concern who, buying one piece at retail, sent said piece to a factory off shore, knocking off the creation to a T. These entities bank on the fact that the creator does not have the resources to fight them and for the most part, they are correct. Artists lives are wealthy in intangible ways and they rarely have the “luxury” to hire an attorney, leaving them to sometimes lose their living.

    Tom and Linda are creative and talented people and I stand behind them. I say that people who are tired of these shenanigans need to step up and help them, in any way that they can, whether going to their shop or website to purchase from them or as I have done…contribute to their fund for attorney fees. Enough is enough. I am very sorry that I purchased something from Knitpicks recently, after long saying that I would not do it. Now I wonder if the particular item that I bought (a magnetic pattern holder) was knocked off, too. I will never ever ever buy from them again. I should have known better. Shame shame shame.

  10. Charlene says:

    This is unfortunately hardly surprising given other Knitpicks products. Knitpicks has also conscripted machine-knitted blanks for dyeing from http://machineknittingtodyefor.com who had them first, taught them at SOAR, Convergence, etc., to the point where at Stitches someone tried to tell her that SHE was copying THEM. Sheesh! My local yarn store hates them because of the way they knock off and undercut existing yarns and pass them off as their own ideas.

  11. GinkgoKnits says:

    This seems particularly egregious since KP claimed that the needles idea came from a laminate spoon and not from any similar product. Similarly, KP has recently started selling yarn bobbins that supposedly were inspired by fishing tackle — and they has go back to the designs for the fishing gear to recreate them. This may be true but they are not the only one selling this style of bobbin (see http://bit.ly/cwMa1N). Copying plastic stitch marker rings is one thing but using a less common idea or undercutting a smaller company seems like a move from a business bully.

    For a company that has worked to build up a good image and earn loyal fans, it seems strange that KP wouldn’t be more concerned about making knitters think they are the Walmart of the knitting world — lots of things one would like to buy, but with practices that make some people queasy.

  12. admin says:

    Hi all, I think we need to clarify something: this blog is not Dyakcraft’s/Grafton’s blog. They’re not my needles, nor is this my legal battle.

    The text of this post has a link to Dyakcraft’s website, where you should be able to find contact information and pass along your well wishes, if you choose.

  13. MimiM says:

    I have used many different kinds of wooden needles and I have never had any perform like Darn Pretty ones! I even bought a pair from KnitPicks’s, same size and color, just to make a comparison, and the Darn Pretty ones won hands down! I have gone back and forth…and I always breathe a sigh of relief when I use yours! I had an idea that they might have copied you…thanks for posting so can all spread the word. I hope you win this legal battle!

  14. Dorothy says:

    I LOVE your needles and know you were first!! Your needles are made right here in the USA. Hello fellow knitters “those other needles” are made in India………we already have lost too many jobs to Asia. If Knit Picks was really for America they would be buying MADE IN THE USA. And there yarns are not such a bargain either. Their skiens are much smaller and when you have to double it or more how much are you really savings.
    The needles by Dyakcraft are far superior to the “others”
    I stand behind you completely!!!

  15. Leslie says:

    Interesting dilemma. If it’s about words and longevity Dyakraft would/could most likely win. The question really is, what will they win. KnitPiks has won the branding war. I wonder of the real question is has either applied for the patent to create the needles.

  16. Ruth Denney says:

    I fall in with Tilly Knitter on this. It should be clear to anyone who even half pays attention that their merchandise is largely knock-offs of the real thing, needles, markers, what have you. What a shame that Grafton has to go to court to get back what is theirs in the first place. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong. Co-opting merchandise and then under-cutting its originators is not business. At least not the right kind of business.

  17. Ruth Denney says:

    I fall in with Tilly Knitter on this. It should be clear to anyone who even half pays attention that their merchandise is largely knock-offs of the real thing, needles, markers, what have you. What a shame that Grafton has to go to court to get back what is theirs in the first place. I do my best to spread the word about KnitPicks and can only hope that my friends tell their friends. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong. Co-opting merchandise and then under-cutting its originators is not business. At least not the right kind of business.

  18. Luann says:

    This is a very interesting case, thanks for pointing to the original documents. KnitPicks has a wide range of popular products, and I acknowledge their role in the knitting marketplace, but I stopped buying from them after they forced Knit Pixie (now KPixie) into changing their name.

  19. Crystal says:

    It would be nice if we could all afford to purchase based on our ethics. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. I would love to be able to purchase needles from signature or Dyakcraft but then I wouldn’t be able to afford the yarn to use with them.

    I don’t understand trademark law well enough to be able to have an opinion. But I was taught what about stealing as a child, and whether it’s an idea, test answers or property, stealing is just plain wrong. It’s sad to see big companies get away with it.

  20. Tilly Knitter says:

    I must say, it’s about time somebody brought KnitPicks up for their thieving ways. Any other company has a good idea, then Knitpicks buys one of their items and sends it off-shore for duplication. Once copied, they sell the items for half the cost of the original! Look at their “faux” Chibi needles, their ball winders, their plastic safety-pin markers and split ring markers. Rip offs, rip offs, rip offs.

    I will continue to boycott KnitPicks in favor of LYSs and companies that compete fairly in the marketplace. KnitPicks may be owned and run by knitters, but they don’t have “the souls of knitters”. They are a completely mercenary company and my money is better spent elsewhere. Just my opinion.

  21. spinningkat says:

    Interesting dilemma. As a former yarn shop owner-I have purchased products from Grafton-all hand made by the artisan-Tom is wonderful. And I have purchased needles from KnitPicks as an individual-prices being a factor, It appears to me the grievance truly began when KnitPicks files a trademark-even though they were not the 1st to create these needles-thus impeding Grafton from perhaps being able to sell their needles-an in your face kind of tactic that is not necessary based on the point you made about the price points. Grafton has no choice but to prevent the trademark. While we love our artisans and US made items-as a country we often buy the offshore cheaply created product. That is why Walmart is successful. We do not buy politically correct.

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