By John Crump
Century Arms International is a massive importer and manufacturer of firearms. They are best known for importing AK-style rifles such as the WASR-10 AKMs. Century also produces their own US built Red Army AK-style rifles. In addition to their AKs, Century Arms is the importer of the Canik pistols.
William Sucher, a typewriter repairman, found the company in 1961 after he took a Lee–Enfield rifle in trade from a customer who owed him money. He discovered that it was easier to sell the rifle than it was to sell typewriters. He went in search of other surplus rifles to sell. His brother-in-law made foreign contacts that had access to surplus guns and Century started importing and selling handguns and rifles.
Today Century is the largest importer of firearms in the United States. In addition to importing guns, Century also has started manufacturing their own firearms. They make around $40,000,000 a year in revenue. Century is known for their success in the Warsaw Pact firearms market.
Century is also known for something else besides firearms. They are known for suing smaller companies that are involved in the AK market. Their latest legal conquest is against XTech Tactical over their MAG47 AK magazine.
Century acquired the intellectual property of US Palms who made a waffle pattern AK magazine. It is this magazine that Century is claiming that XTech Tactical copied from US Palms. Century originally filed the suit against XTech Tactical in Florida.
US Palms never had a patent on their waffle pattern AK magazine. Chances are even if US Palms tried to get a patent on the magazine’s design, the US patent office would have denied the filing because they were not the first company to use the pattern.
Various manufacturers have used the waffle pattern in Eastern Europe since at least the 1950s. We can find examples from Poland and Bulgaria just to name a few. Since these Eastern Bloc magazines were first made under communist regimes, the state owns the design, so there was never a patent on the waffle pattern.
Since Century couldn’t sue over a violation of a patent they decided to sue XTech Tactical by claiming that the much smaller company infringed on trade dress. Suing for violating trade dress is very rare. It is even more unusual for it to be successful in a court proceeding. That is why companies avoid these suits.
The purpose of a trade dress is to protect the consumer from being fooled by an imitation. For example, if you were designing a soft drink package to look exactly like a bottle of Pepsi and called it Papsi, then you can be sued by Pepsi for trying to fool the customer into thinking that your product was Pepsi.
To be subject to a trade dress claim the design has to be non-functional. This fact is one of the most confusing things about the Century lawsuit against XTech Tactical. Century seems to admit in a press release that they sent out when they acquired US Palm’s IP that the waffle pattern on the magazines are functional.
“As a leading seller of AK rifles for nearly forty years, Century feels it is important to keep US PALM’s brand and level of craftsmanship in producing quality magazines and grips alive, so consumers won’t have to settle for imitations or knockoffs. Working with the original brand co-owners and designers, US PALM legacy magazines, instantly recognizable by their distinctive waffle and tread design, and US PALM grips favored for their exceptional ergonomics will still be available under the original brand while staying true to their authentic vision.”
If the waffle pattern increases grip or ergonomics, then a trade dress claim would not be successful in court. Yet this is what Century is giving for the reason that they are suing XTech Tactical. To double check, I contacted three attorneys that specialize in intellectual property cases. After reviewing all publicly available documentation, they couldn’t understand how Century thinks they have a case.
Not only was Century suing XTech Tactical over the magazines, but they were also suing the small company over an unreleased grip. Century said that customers believed that they were buying genuine Century products when they were buying XTech Tactical products. I could not find one person who was into guns that would have been confused.
I acquired both a US Palm magazine and an XTech Magazine, and outside the waffle pattern, XTech’s magazines look nothing like the US Palm/Century magazines. In my opinion, there is no way that anyone could mistake the two as being from the same company. On top of that their packaging looks nothing alike.
The XTech Tactical magazine is also a far superior magazine. Knockoffs make money by cutting corners and making an inferior product that looks similar to the product they are copying. XTech Tactical made truly innovative design changes and does not look like the US Palms magazine. There were no corners cut.
The court dismissed the original case in Florida after Century filed a voluntary dismissal without prejudice. XTech Tactical thought they would be able to put the lawsuit behind them and move forward. They continued to make the magazines that they believed that they had every right to make.
Legal teams are not cheap, but XTech Tactical could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The company spent thousands of dollars preparing to defend their right to use the waffle pattern on their AK magazine, but it was over. They had won, or so they had thought.
Century wasn’t ready to give up that easy and refiled the case in Arizona. This time they were not just suing XTech Tactical. Century also filed a lawsuit against XTech Tactical’s CEO, Jeremy Deadman, Personally.
Not only was Century Arms suing Deadman, but they also filed a suit against his wife. Deadman’s wife was not involved with XTech Tactical at all. It seems like Century wasn’t satisfied with just going after the company.
Century went as far as listing the Deadman’s personal information on their website. It is customary for companies that post legal documents on their website to redact personal information. Century chose not to do that and listed all the information for anyone to see.
Not only was Deadman’s company in danger, but so was his whole financial livelihood. He could stop producing his magazines, or he could fight back against Century and risk everything. Deadman would choose the latter and fight back against a massive company out to crush his small business.
Century Arms also threatened to sue Deadman’s full-time employer for unfair trade practices. XTech Tactical isn’t Deadman’s only job. Century knew this as evident in threatening to sue Deadman’s day job. The letters that Century sent seems to imply they would be willing to drop the suits as long as Deadman agrees not to make AK magazines and grips.
I talked to several distributors who were afraid of stocking the XTech Tactical magazines because of a fear that people have of being sued by Century. At first, I was confused by this. Why would they be afraid of stocking the magazines if they had nothing to do with the design?
There had to be something there. I started researching the history of Century Arms and their prior lawsuits. Then I think I found why these companies were so scared of Century.
In 2013 M+M Industries started buying and importing firearms from C.N. Romarm S.A. C.N. Romarm S.A is a Romanian government-owned weapons company. The most famous rifle produced by the company is the WASR-10. M+M Industries started having their M10 series rifle to be produced by C.N. Romarm S.A.
Century Arms was also importing the WASR-10 from C.N. Romarm S.A at the time. They claimed to have an exclusive agreement with C.N. Romarm S.A to import AKs to the US. Suing a government wasn’t a viable option because the Romanian government would probably ignore the suit, so Century did the next best thing.
One person with knowledge of the case told me, “If Century is using the lawsuit to put XTech Tactical out of business by hoping they would run out of money then maybe it is time they get looked at themselves for unfair trade practices.
They sued M+M Industries claiming that they caused Century $4,000,000 in loss of revenue. M+M Industries couldn’t afford to spend millions to fight against the lawsuit, so they stopped importing the rifle leaving Century was the sole importer of the WASR-10.
Century has slowed their import of WASR-10s to the US. Century would claim that a fire at Cugir factory was the cause of the slow down, but Cugir factory says that this claim is false. According to the company, the fire did not affect their production of the WASR-10.
Around the same time, Century started producing the widely panned RAS-47. This rifle was an in-house Century made AK. Many conspiracy theorists on message boards claim that Century used the fire as an excuse to stop importing the WASR-10 to push their own AK, therefore, increasing the profits from an inferior rifle, but there is no smoking gun to prove that this theory is correct.
As for Deadman and XTech, they have started a website covering the suit. Deadman named the website suedbycentury.com. Deadman states that he has no plans on giving up fighting these lawsuits that appear frivolous on the surface.
One person with knowledge of the case told me, “If Century is using the lawsuit to put XTech Tactical out of business by hoping they would run out of money then maybe it is time they get looked at themselves for unfair trade practices.”
John Crump is a guest writer at Liberty Report and a Co-host of The Patriot News Podcast.