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?