Luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin has won a landmark case protecting his famous red soles from would-be copycats.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled today that Van Haren, a Dutch footwear retailer, infringed Louboutin’s trademark by selling a range of red-soled shoes.
The case centred on a piece of European trademark law that forbids the registration of shapes where they add substantial value to goods, leading Van Haren to believe they were at liberty to sell their red-soled line. Indeed Louboutin appeared to suffer a setback in his bid for protection in February, when an advocate general in the case appeared to suggest in his summing up that the red soles may not have been protectable by law saying that a combination of a shape and a colour might be refused a trademark.
However expert lawyers told The Industry at the time that the case was far from over and that it had yet to be ratified by the European Court, which ruled in Louboutin’s favour today.
The court today noted that Louboutin was only seeking to protect the application of the colour to a certain part of the shoe, and was not seeking to protect the combination of the shape and colour, and ruled in his favour. The case will now go to the Dutch court in The Hague, which seems likely to uphold the ruling leaving Louboutin with a monopoly on the red-soled shoe marked, and, potentially, coloured soles in general.
One legal expert told The Industry, that Louboutin may even be able to argue that any other shoe with painted soles infringed his trademark. “One of the next questions for lawyers will be, if someone puts green or blue or another colour soles on their high heeled shoes, can Louboutin say it’s too similar to their own mark – can Louboutin stop them? Be careful. What of the likes of Jeffery West shoes with their distinctive red insole in light of this decision? This is an opportunity to push boundaries with what constitutes an exclusive trade mark – a very valuable commodity, as Louboutin will no doubt tell any shoe manufacturer attempting anything even vaguely similar,” said Rebecca Halford Harrison, IP, tech and disputes lawyer at Keystone Law.
In a statement today, Louboutin commented. “For 26 years, the red sole has enabled the public to attribute the origin of the shoe to its creator, Christian Louboutin.
“This case will now be referred back to The Hague court, which is expected to confirm the validity of the red sole trademark.”