2nd Circuit, Fashion, Fashion Is Fun, Intellectual Property, Shoes, Trademarks

Christian Louboutin No Longer Seeing Red After This Second Circuit Trademark Ruling

After more than a year of litigation, fellow fashionistas can finally rejoice, because thanks to the Second Circuit, French fashion house Christian Louboutin is officially entitled to trademark protection for its signature red-soled shoes. It seems that the epic judicial shoedown against Yves Saint Laurent is at its end.

But not so fast, ladies. Before you shake your Loubooties on the catwalk at Fashion Week, you may be interested to know that this was only a partial victory for everyone’s favorite luxury shoemaker.

The Second Circuit made a rather important distinction in its opinion today — one that seems a bit antithetical to Louboutin’s desires, considering the fact that it’s what prompted the underlying lawsuit in the first place….

Louboutin first sued YSL in April 2011 when the latter announced its intent to introduce a line of “monochrome” women’s shoes, including red pumps with red soles. As you can imagine, Louboutin wasn’t pleased by this decision, because it meant that another designer would be entering the market for red-soled shoes, even though Louboutin had trademarked “Chinese Red” in 2008 and had been using it on its soles since 1992.

(Because really, there’s no point in owning a pair of red-soled shoes if they are not made by Christian Louboutin. Even though everyone and their mother seems to have a pair these days, they’re still a status symbol. Why be a traitor to the brand by purchasing a pair of expensive knockoffs?)

Last summer, however, Judge Victor Marrero denied Louboutin’s request for a preliminary injunction, noting that “[a]warding one participant in the designer shoe market a monopoly on the color red would impermissibly hinder competition among other participants,” thus opening the door for YSL to sell its red-on-red shoes.

Unsatisfied, Louboutin appealed to the Second Circuit. The ruling came down today, and at first glance, it seems like the fashion house came out on top. From the opinion (available here):

Loubs have clearly acquired secondary meaning in the marketplace, so of course the court called out Judge Marerro for his incorrect conclusion that a single color could never be trademarked. But here’s where the court makes its damning distinction in the case of “monochrome” shoes — like those proposed by YSL.

The WSJ Law Blog has the details:

[T]he U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Wednesday found that Louboutin had the right to trademark its red soles, as long as they contrasted with the rest of the shoe. It partially reversed the lower court’s order and sent the case back to the district court for more proceedings.

It seems that Louboutin got what it wanted at the expense of YSL getting its fair share of the red-sole market. Perhaps the Paris-based pump purveyor should have left well enough alone, because now every designer is going to try to put similar “monochrome” shoes out on the market — and that’s so not hot.

Christian Louboutin Wins Red Sole Trademark Battle Over YSL…Sort Of [Fashionista]
Opinion: Christian Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit]
NY appeals court finds French shoemaker’s red soles are entitled to trademark protection [Washington Post]
Louboutin Wins Rights to Red Soles, as Long as They Contrast [WSJ Law Blog]

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