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Laguiole - French village fights for right to use its name

A carving knife and fork in the distinctive Laguiole design
A carving knife and fork in the distinctive Laguiole design Open access/tokyofoodcast

A French village is calling for nationwide support after losing a legal fight for local businesses' right to use its name to sell their products. Laguiole, a southern French village famous for producing a unique design of knife, was this month ordered to pay 100,000 euros to a resident of the Paris region who patented the name in 1993.

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The Laguiole council is appealing to France's 36,000 local councils to come to its aid, claiming that it is the victim of a "supernatural catastrophe" following a Paris court's refusal to uphold its case against Gilbert Szajner, who lives in the Val de Marne département just outside Paris.

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Szajner patented the Laguiole brand in 1993 for 38 kinds of products, including knives, barbecues, tablecloths, clothes and cigarette lighters and has since marketed them, often having them manufactured in China or Pakistan.

But the distinctively designed knife has been produced in Laguiole itself since 1829 and residents regard it as a "produit de terror", as intimately linked to the place it is made as the famous local cheese or a grand cru wine.

In 1997 local officials took Szajner to court, accusing him of dishonest trading practices and carrying out "harming its name, its image and its reputation".

After a long legal wrangle, the court threw out the case on 4 April and ordered the village to pay 100,000 euros - 10 per cent of the village's annual budget, according to mayor Vicent Alazard - in costs to Szajner.

"If a Laguiole businessman want to make a cheeseboard and use the name Laguiole he will be counterfeiting a Chinese product," Alazard said after the judgement.

This week the council wrote to President François Hollande, asking him "restore" the use of the village's name to its 1,300 residents.

In a statement, Szajner points out that he has not patented the design of the famous knife and that the local council can still use the name.

But he inisists on his rights over the brand.

"Could the councils of Gap or Orange seriously consider themselves 'dispossessed of their names"?" he asks.

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