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The Sole of a Brand: Louboutin Fails to Convince NY Judge to See Red

Posted by Shirley Brady on August 10, 2011 04:30 PM

Christian Louboutin suffered a setback today when a New York judge rebuffed the brand's attempt to stop other brands — namely, rival French fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent — from adding a red sole to their high-heel shoes.

According to the Associated Press,

"U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero refused a request by Christian Louboutin to stop the sale of women's shoes with red soles by competitor Yves Saint Laurent S.A.S., another French company based in Paris. Though the ruling came at an early stage of consideration of a lawsuit Louboutin brought in April, the judge said it will probably be tossed out."

Marrero ruled that it's unlikely Louboutin could defend an "overly broad" trademark, which claims the lacquered red sole as a feature of its mark, that was granted in 2008 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Drawing an artistic analogy, the judge said Picasso couldn't legally prevent Monet from using a particular hue of indigo, and added that granting Louboutin exclusive use of the color red could hinder manufacturers of other items.

"Awarding one participant in the designer shoe market a monopoly on the color red would impermissibly hinder competition among other participants," Marrero wrote. "Louboutin's claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers do, while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette."

That's not to say that brands can't trademark certain shades of color. As William McGeveran of Capital NY comments,

In one much more pedestrian case, the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that Qualitex Co., a maker of dry-cleaning equipment, could "own" a certain puke-green color. A color, according to the ruling, may serve as a trademark provided it fulfills the same purpose as a more traditional trademark such as a brand name or a logo: to identify a particular provider. U.P.S.’ brown trucks and Owens-Corning’s pink insulation both enjoy trademark protection.

But the Court also noted that competitors may still copy colors if they are “functional”—that is, if they are important to the way a product works beyond merely the reputation they bestow.

Marrero's ruling, AP notes, "came at an early stage of consideration of a lawsuit Louboutin brought in April, (although) the judge said it will probably be tossed out."

What do you think — does Louboutin's lawsuit have a leg to stand on?


Jackie Beckley United States says:

While I can understand a part of the ruling, it is sad for me to really think about it because - as a consumer of shoes - that little flash of red says.....Louboutin.  It does.  I really thought they owned that part of the mark - and that they don't - it totally trashes part of their brand identity.  I assume they had the data to support it - but.....somethings missing.  Good luck ....red sole shoe company!

August 11, 2011 10:22 AM #

S. Brady (brandchannel) United States says:

Thanks for the comment, Jackie! Styleite posted a great follow-up today:


August 12, 2011 04:29 PM #

Ti D. United States says:

As a recent graduate and designer myself, I find this ruling unfortunate.  The goal whilst in school is to find something to set one's brand apart from any other.  Circumstances such as this lead me to believe branding and creativity may not always matter or be protected in the U.S.Perhaps Louboutin should trademark a very particular shade of red for their shoes.  Names and particular saturations of colors are protected.  I would think that a distinctive brand such as YSL would not want to be mistaken for Louboutin, but whatever it takes to make as dollar seems to trump all else in this market.  It's the age of the copy cat.

August 11, 2011 06:32 PM #

S. Brady (brandchannel) United States says:

and the age of the Kopykat!


Thanks for taking time to comment, we'll be following this case....

August 12, 2011 04:32 PM #

Shannon A. United States says:

Makes me wonder if Louboutin and Co. should just go for a specific color trademark ala "Tiffany Blue"... there's got to be a Pantone red they can protect as "Louboutin Red", no?

August 11, 2011 07:16 PM #

S. Brady (brandchannel) United States says:

Hi Shannon -- sounds like the problem stemmed from the "vagueness" of Louboutin's original trademark:


August 12, 2011 04:34 PM #

Jack Vrooman United States says:

Well I feel I must put my foot down. Who's to say ol' Christian didn't see a red sole somewhere before he cobbled his first shoe. Even if he had not been vague, and he specified the exact color, how would this protect him if any other red were used (it is a primary color, after all)? It might not, because his claim could then be judged as too specific for protection. Which may be why it was submitted "vague" in the first place. I'm just saying...

Time for Chris to find another differentiator, (I don't, maybe blue?) and for me to get back to my comic books.  

August 12, 2011 09:12 PM #

Comments are closed

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