Wednesday, June 27, 2012

1911s, Imitation, flattery, secret patents, and CZ 75s

In 1820 Charles Caleb Colton wrote the words "Imitation is the sincerest of flattery." Applying this adage to the handgun world, we find that the CZ 75 and the M1911 are the most flattered semi-auto handguns ever made. The CZ 75 is the second most copied handgun design ever; surpassed in number of imitations only by the M1911.

Frantisek Koucky was the designer behind the CZ 75. Koucky authored and filed four patents during the model's development from 1974-1975 to protect the design. The CZ 75 was identified by the Czechoslovak military early in development as a possible replacement for the then-current-issue CZ Model 52. Because the new handgun had potential as a military project, the decision was made to keep the patents filed for the design "classified."  As undisclosed state secrets, the patents were only valid inside Czechoslovakia.

Politically, the 9mm cartridge  caused problems for the CZ 75.  No Warsaw Pact countries used the 9mm, and even worse, NATO countries used it in both pistols and submachine guns.   In the end, because the CZ 75 was designed for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, the model was not adopted by the Czechoslovak military.  

This wasn't enough to stop the success of the model. The high quality as well as the design innovation and excellence of the model was recognized by those outside the Eastern Bloc countries. In 1977 the CZ 75 entered large-scale production as an export-oriented model targeted primarily at western Europe. 

The design was quickly embraced by customers worldwide; production and geographical distribution enjoyed considerable growth.  In 1979 the huge sales potential of the CZ 75 was recognized and a decision was made to declassify the patents. CZ company documents record the change in status of the design patents, but for reasons that remain unknown, the status of the patents was never changed by the Industrial Property Office of Prague, and they remained officially classified until their expiration. Because the patents were never actually declassified there, was no protection for the design outside of the country.

The combination of no publicly-known patent protection and demand for the CZ 75 design led to the production of CZ 75 clones by several manufacturers outside of Czechoslovakia by the late 1980s. To date, the CZ 75 has been cloned or closely copied by manufacturers in the US, Great Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, Sudan, Philippines, North Korea, Israel, Italy, Czech Republic, China, Chile and probably others that aren't on the market yet.

The M1911, designed by John Browning, followed a much different route to flattery. The United States adopted the model in 1911.  In addition to great design, timing played an important role in its success.  The advent of WWI spread the manufacture of the M1911 to numerous U.S. manufacturers under contract for wartime production.  The rights to manufacture were licensed to other countries as well.

The demand for John Browning's design continues today.  The patents covering the original design have long since expired, allowing any company that so desires to try their hand at the M1911. Some clones are better quality than others; some variations put an emphasis on accuracy -- others on reliability or even cosmetics.  Of course we believe the Dan Wesson-produced versions of the 1911 to be among the best quality 1911 variations ever produced.  (An opinion shared by many)