Don't Step on Louboutin's Red-Soled Shoes, EU Court Says

(Bloomberg) -- French designer Christian Louboutin won a fight over trademark protection for his iconic red-soled stiletto shoes.

The ruling by the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Tuesday said the color isn’t covered by limits on trademark protection for the shapes of products. EU trademark law includes such a ban when the shapes are purely functional.

Tuesday’s decision is a boon to fashion houses and brands that use color to stand out from the competition. The decision is totally at odds with the advice from a court aide, who said Louboutin’s red soles could potentially be affected by the prohibition.

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

“The commercial impact is that brands that have invested heavily in branding and product positioning based on distinctive trademarks should be able to protect their brands against competitors seeking to gain an unfair advantage,” he said.

A mark consisting of a color applied to the red sole of a shoe “is not covered by the prohibition of the registration of shapes,” the EU judges said in their decision.

The case will go back to a court in The Hague, which had sought the EU tribunal’s advice in a dispute between the French fashion designer and a Dutch retail shoe shop that started selling red-soled women’s shoes, arguing that Louboutin should never have gotten a trademark protection in the first place.

The ruling strengthens Maison Christian Louboutin’s trademark protection, the French company said in a statement.

“For 26 years, the red sole has enabled the public to attribute the origin of the shoe to its creator, Christian Louboutin.”

The Dutch court will be bound by Tuesday’s EU court decision. Louboutin said it expects the tribunal “to confirm the validity of the red sole trademark.”

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