Fashion Law, Trademark Law – Christian Louboutin’s trademark of red shoe soles runs into a stop sign

Fashion designer Christian Louboutin is well-known for designing shoes with red soles.  When YSL started selling shoes with red soles, Louboutin filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement and asked for an injunction (a court order preventing YSL from selling their red sole shoes).

On August 10, 2011, the court denied Louboutin’s injunction request and furthermore stated that it had “serious doubts that Louboutin possesses a protectable mark.” (click here for a pdf copy of the injunction order).  This is because the court felt that in the fashion industry, color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions (“functional” being the key word) vital to promote competition and innovation.  Therefore, the court did not want to recognize a “trademark for the use of a single color for fashion items.”

Louboutin may have had a better chance if the trademark registration was less broad (lacquered red sole on women’s high fashion designer footwear), although the court expressed doubts on allowing a trademark for even a particular range of shades of red and noted that defining “women’s high fashion” has its own problems.

This ruling is interesting because many people identify a red shoe sole as a Louboutin shoe, which run as much as $1000 a pair or more and has a healthy celebrity clientele that includes Jennifer Lopez.  Usually trademark law protects a name or feature of a product that is distinct to a particular company. However, the court ruled that trademarking a color would hinder competition in the fashion industry, unlike trademarks for colors that have been granted in industries such as Owens-Corning’s trademark of pink for fibrous glass insulation.

Louboutin has already said he would appeal.

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