NEW YORK, N.Y. - The distinctive red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes are entitled to trademark protection, even if the company can't exactly call the colour its own, a U.S. appeals court said Wednesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court judge who had ruled against the French maker of luxury shoes worn by stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry.
The appeals court said Louboutin was entitled to protect its brand against red-soled shoes made by competitor Yves Saint Laurent S.A.S., which is also based in Paris. The court, though, instructed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to limit registration of the trademark to situations in which the red lacquered outsole contrasts in colour with the adjoining upper part of the shoe.
In 2008, the trademark office granted protection to Louboutin, which has applied glossy vivid red to the outsoles of women's shoes since 1992. The shoes sell for up to $1,000 a pair.
A U.S. District judge went too far in August 2011 when he ruled that a single colour can never serve as a trademark in the fashion industry, the appeals court said.
The court said Louboutin's bright red outsole had acquired limited secondary meaning as a distinctive symbol that identifies the Louboutin brand. It noted that the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection had recently seized more than 20,000 counterfeit Louboutin shoes illegally shipped to the United States.
Still, the appeals court noted, for instance, that Yves Saint Laurent's use of a red outsole on monochromatic red shoes does not infringe on Louboutin's trademark.
"It is the contrast between the sole and the upper that causes the sole to 'pop,' and to distinguish its creator," the court wrote.
A Louboutin lawyer, Harley Lewin, said: "Louboutin is enormously pleased that its central arguments, that indeed a single colour can and does serve as a trademark in the fashion industry and perhaps even more importantly, that its Red Sole trademark is valid and enforceable and will remain so, have been confirmed as correct."
Lawyers for Yves Saint Laurent did not immediately respond to messages for comment.