Louboutin wins court battle over trademark red soles

Paris-based Louboutin has marketed the red-soledshoes for more than 25 years.
Paris-based Louboutin has marketed the red-soledshoes for more than 25 years.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS • He saw red and was adamant that others could not step on his famous creation.

On Tuesday, French luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin won the support of Europe's highest court over trademarking his signature, red-soled, high-heeled shoes.

He had taken Dutch shoe-maker Van Haren to court in the Netherlands after the latter sold similar shoes. The case was then referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Paris-based Louboutin has marketed the red-soled shoes for more than a quarter of a century.

The glamorous footwear was featured on the television series, Sex And The City (1998 to 2004).

"I can confirm that Louboutin won the case. The Dutch company has to respect the trademark," a spokesman for the ECJ, the bloc's top court, said.

The French shoe-maker hailed the decision as a "victory for the Maison Christian Louboutin".

The years-long, arcane legal dispute centred on whether Louboutin's trademark involved a shape or a colour under European Union law.

Louboutin filed a trademark in 2010 and took the Dutch company to court, when it started selling high-heeled, red-soled women's shoes in 2012 at its outlets in the Netherlands.

The Dutch company argued that European regulations state that shapes by themselves cannot be registered as trademarks and the Dutch court referred the issue to the ECJ.

Louboutin argued that the use of a colour - specifically, in this case, a red pigment called Pantone 18 1663TP - can be trademarked.

His company added that the "shape" in question was just a way of showing where the colour is located on the bottom of the shoe.

Judges in Luxembourg on Tuesday rejected the official advice of their own top lawyer, who said in February that the red soles could not be trademarked.

Dutch judges must now make a final decision.

Louboutin has faced a series of legal battles over the distinctive soles.

A Paris appeals court last month ruled against French shoe company Kesslord after it sold red-soled shoes and ordered it to pay €7,500 (S$11,770) in damages to Louboutin's company.

In 2012, a United States court also said Louboutin could trademark the red soles, reversing an earlier ruling that would have allowed rival Yves Saint Laurent to paint its outsoles scarlet.

But one year before that, Louboutin lost a separate case in France against Spanish clothing chain Zara.

Industry pundits said Tuesday's decision is a boon to fashion houses and brands that use colour to stand out from the competition.

"This could be a landmark case of considerable value for those brands who use distinctive colours as part of their trademarks and a blow to competitors looking to mimic their products," said Mr John Illsley, a London-based director at accountancy firm Moore Stephens.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'Louboutin wins court battle over trademark red soles'. Print Edition | Subscribe