Seeing Louboutin Red – The Battle for a Trademarked Sole
People rarely associate color with a trademark. But protecting Louboutin Red as a trademark has become a central issue in designer shoe-maker Christian Louboutin’s dispute with Yves St. Laurent.
U.S. Trademark law protects many kinds of marks. These range from words, logos, slogans, distinctive scents connected with products, sounds and even color (if one can prove the public associates the color with one’s products or services).
In 2008 Designer Christian Louboutin was able to register several trademarks containing his famous red color, which he named “Loubutin Red”. These are shown below.
Louboutin claims that by virtue of his use of this vibrant, iridescent color over several decades, members of the public now have come to associate Loboutin red exclusively with Louboutin shoes and leather bags. The color has become associated with high fashion, designer items.
Many will recognize a Louboutin shoe almost immediately, spotting the red-lacquer flashes of distinction as fashionable women click by you on the sidewalks on their way to work, at parties, or while leisurely perusing the wares at other designer stores.
The shoe designer has been undercoating his footwear with the shade since 1992. As a color, it’s distinctive, particularly on the sole of a shoe.
But a district judge in New York may be stepping on the designer’s toes, leaning more towards competitors like Yves St. Laurent who may want to paint the town (and their shoes) red as well.
On August 10th the district judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction stopping Yves St. Laurent from selling shoes with a red sole that Louboutin says infringe his trademark. The judge did not believe that a designer could trademark a color. According to U.S. Justice Victor Marrero:
“Color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition . . . Louboutin is unlikely to be able to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection.”
If Yves St. Laurent is successful in contesting Louboutin’s trademark rights to the color red, the trademark may be canceled. If that happens, the French-based Christian Louboutin S.A. will likely step up their fight against Yves St. Laurent and take the case to the Supreme Court.
If Loubutin loses their trademark infringement case, the loss may open the door for other shoe companies to start painting their soles Louboutin Red. Should that happen, distinguishing the real Louboutin shoe from others will be a real “feet”.
Tal Grinblat is a Los Angeles Intellectual Property Lawyer and California State Bar Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, as designated by the Bar’s Board of Legal Specializations. Contact him by calling 818.990.2120 or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.