Posted by Barry Silverstein on September 5, 2012 05:25 PM
Fashion brands are particularly fussy when it comes to protecting an attribute that defines their very soul — or in the case of Christian Louboutin, its sole.
The designer of shoes with iconic red bottoms that sell for as high as $3995 a pair, Louboutin has been sticking its stilettos into counterfeiters who sell fake versions of pricey pairs of their shoes, as well as other fashion brands who dare to step on their trademarked sole.
Last August, Louboutin took legal action in a U.S. court against another French fashion firm, Yves Saint Laurent. The case had interesting trademark implications: Louboutin had argued that YSL was infringing on its intellectual property by introducing all-red shoes. But a New York judge rebuffed the argument, stating that "Loubotin's claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers could do while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette. Louboutin would thus be able to market a total outfit in red, while other designers would not."
Louboutin appealed the decision and now, in the latest twist, it has won a trademark battle, but not the trademark war.
On September 5, a New York U.S. Appeals Court agreed that Louboutin's "red lacquered outer sole that contrasts with the color of the rest of the shoe and not to shoes that are monochromatically red" is indeed entitled to limited trademark protection. Louboutin owns a U.S. trademark on the red sole dating back to 2008.
While winning this round, the ruling cannot be considered a total victory for Louboutin, because it does not prevent Yves Saint Laurent, or any other fashion designer for that matter, from creating all-red shoes. And Louboutin hasn't had the best of luck in its home country, either: A French court invalidated its trademark in May because it did not refer to a specific color of red.
We won't be floored if we see Louboutin trotting out its trademark argument in court several more times in the future.