Christian Louboutin, the French designer known for his famous red-bottom luxury shoes, has been battling to protect the distinctively colored red soles on his self-named shoe brand.
The issue at hand dates back to 2012, when Louboutin went to court in The Hague, which is located in the Netherlands, to file a lawsuit against Van Haren, a Dutch retail chain company for infringing on Louboutin’s trademark by selling their own version of red-soled stilettos shoes. In a decision from Tuesday, the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the European Union’s (EU) highest court, ruled in favor of the fashion giant, holding that Louboutin’s use of the iconic red color means that its shoes can actually be trademarked.
The Dutch company argued that it should be allowed to sell the shoes because EU trademark law prohibits the trademark of products with common shapes, such as shoes, particularly when the shape is purely functional, thereby arguing that the color is purely functional.
In their opinion, the judges explained that “[a] mark consisting of a color applied to the red sole of a shoe is not covered by the prohibition of the registration of shapes.” The Court elaborated further by stating that it was irrelevant that Van Haren’s shoes were a different shape than Louboutin’s because the registration of the trademark “sought solely to protect that application of a color to a specific part of that product.”
This judgment is a godsend to fashion designers and brands all over the world that use particular colors to stand out from their competition. The decision goes against the advice from the advocate general, who said in a statement in February, that the red color could not be considered as being separate from the shape of the sole, and therefore doesn’t qualify for trademark protection under EU trademark law. This decision means that Louboutin can develop a monopoly for red-soled high heel shoes.
The Dutch court had asked the EU court for an advisory opinion addressing whether the prohibition on the registration of shapes as trademarks additionally applied to shapes that combined 3D properties of an object along with other characteristics like colors.
The case will go back to the Dutch court, which argued that Louboutin should never have received EU trademark protection in the first place. Other sources claim that the Dutch court would be bound by Tuesday’s EU court decision. Louboutin himself has stated that he expects the Dutch tribunal “to confirm the validity of the red sole trademark.” Regardless of what happens, it’s not looking good for Van Haren, as decisions from the EU high court are rarely dismissed.