6 Sep 2012

Louboutin shoes deserve protection, court rules

10:55 pm on 6 September 2012

The bright red soles on French footwear designer Christian Louboutin's high-heeled shoes are so distinctive they deserve trademark protection, a United States court has ruled.

A three-judge panel at the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Wednesday reversed a lower court's finding that a single color could not be trademarked in the fashion industry.

Paris-based Louboutin, whose pumps are coveted by many, sued rival Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) in April last year in Manhattan federal court over what he claimed is his signature use of lacquered red on shoe soles.

In August 2011, Manhattan federal judge Victor Marrero denied Louboutin's request for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented YSL from selling shoes with red soles.

But in Wednesday's ruling, the appeals court panel said Louboutin's long-standing use of the red sole was "a distinctive symbol that qualifies for trademark protection."

However, Judges Chester Straub, Jose Cabranes and Debra Ann Livingston limited Louboutin's trademark to shoes where the sole stands out in contrast to the rest of the pump. The finding would allow YSL to produce a monochrome red shoe with a red sole, the opinion said.

David Bernstein, a lawyer for YSL, called the opinion a victory for the label, which is part of French fashion company PPR SA.

Louboutin also called the ruling a win. The company's lawyer, Harley Lewin said it "will be able to protect a life's work as the same is embodied in the red sole found on his women's luxury shoes."

Since shortly after Louboutin founded his first boutique in 1991 in Paris, the lawsuit said, all his shoes have had red-lacquered soles. They can fetch more than $US1000 a pair.