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French town takes knife fight to president

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Villagers have asked the French president to help them get their name back. Photo: Jose A. Torres/AFP
18:02 CEST+02:00
Defiant residents of the French village of Laguiole - famous around the world for its knives - have appealed to their president to intervene on their behalf after they lost a trademark battle in court meaning they are barred from using its name on their own products.

The mayor of the tiny French town of Laguiole has sent a letter to President François Hollande asking him to step in so residents can use the famous village name to market their products.

The move came after villagers lost a court fight against a wealthy businessman who owns the trademark of the village name and who makes the famous Laguiole knives as well as other Laguiole branded products in China.

“In the coming days we would like to come to the capital in order to appeal to you, Mr. President, and relinquish to you the town sign that we have removed,” wrote mayor Vincent Alazard.

Alazard pulled down the village sign in 2012 as a symbolic "unnaming", after losing control of France's most famous' knife brand name in a court case. At stake is what could be last chance for the 1,300 residents of the village to reclaim its name for commercial purposes.

Since 1993 the "Laguiole" name has been the property of businessman Gilbert Szajner. That year he trademarked the village name and has fiercely protected his right to use it.

Szajner has taken the Laguiole name and put it on scores of types of products including lighters, house linens and even barbecues.

The villagers lost the court battles to keep control of the name in 2012 but lodged an appeal, which was denied this month. In its ruling the appeals court wrote: the town of Laguiole "does not show" that the use made of the name would be "likely to harm public interests or prejudice its citizens.”

The mayor described the ruling as surreal. "If tomorrow one of our businesses wants to make Laguiole forks and puts the name Laguiole on them, we will be accused of counterfeiting products made in Asia," Alazard said.

In addition to the ruling against the villagers, the court has also ordered them to pay  a total of €100,000, Europe 1 radio reported.

The consequence is that the owner of the trademark can continue to sell the rights to use the Laguiole name to French and foreign companies who wish make products bearing the brand.

Residents of Laguiole, however, cannot sell goods stamped with name, apart from the knives bearing the brands famous bee logo.

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