Red Shoe Sole is a Protectable Trademark
For more than 20 years, French footwear designer Christian Louboutin's high-heeled shoes have had bright red soles as a prominent fashion feature. He now has a federal court ruling that the red color of these soles can be a distinctive trademark.
On September 5, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, in Christian Louboutin et al v. Yves Saint Laurent America, Inc. (No. 11-3303), held that Louboutin's red sole was "a distinctive symbol that qualifies for trademark protection."
Louboutin had sued Yves Saint Laurent in 2011 claiming that YSL’s use of lacquered red on shoe soles infringed Louboutin’s trademark rights in this color. YSL won the initial round when the District Court denied Louboutin's request for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented YSL from selling pumps with red soles.
The Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that in those instances where the red sole contrasted with the rest of the pump, Louboutin has exclusive and enforceable trademark rights in the color red and can bar YSL and others from using red in this manner. On the other hand, Louboutin cannot bar a red sole where it is part of a monochromatic color scheme for the entire shoe. As stated by the Court, "It is the contrast between the sole and the upper that causes the sole to 'pop,' and to distinguish its creator."
In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that "color alone, at least sometimes, can meet the basic legal requirements for use as a trademark. It can act as a symbol that distinguishes a firm's goods and identifies their source, without serving any other significant function." Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 166 (1995). Louboutin now has this Court of Appeals ruling to support his exclusive right to a red sole on contrasting color pumps.
For a full copy of the decision, click here