Two luxury shoe designers can keep their red soles

Louboutin's red sole story
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Story highlights

  • An appeals court says Christian Louboutin can enforce its red-lacquered sole trademark
  • But the trademark applies only if the sole color contrasts with the color of the rest of the shoe
  • The trademark does not apply to monochromatic shoes, such as designs by Yves St. Laurent
  • A lawsuit that Louboutin filed in June 2011 took issue with four specific YSL shoes

After digging their heels into a legal battle, two high-end French shoe designers can now lay claim to iconic red-soled shoes.

A federal appeals court has ruled that shoe designer Christian Louboutin can enforce a U.S. trademark of the red-lacquered sole that adorns the designer's footwear when it contrasts with the color of the rest of the shoe.

The court also said Wednesday that the trademark does not apply when the shoe is monochromatic, such as Yves St. Laurent's designs that were entirely red.

A lawsuit filed in June 2011 by Louboutin took issue with four specific shoes from YSL's Cruise 2011 Collection: the Tribute, Tribtoo, Palais and Woodstock models, saying they violated Louboutin's trademarked "lacquered red sole."

Louboutin appealed after a federal court judge denied an injunction in August of last year that would have kept YSL from selling shoes with red soles.

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In his decision last year, Judge Victor Marrero said that "Louboutin's claim to the 'the color red' is, without some limitation, overly broad and inconsistent with the scene of trademark registration."

In the appellate decision, Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes upheld trademark protection of Louboutin's red-lacquered outsole but said that YSL's use of the red sole in its monochromatic shoe does not infringe on the trademark.

According to the decision, Christian Louboutin introduced his signature red sole in 1992 and registered the red-lacquered outsole as a trademark in 2008.

In a news release, YSL says that its shoe collections have included styles with red (and other colored) outsoles since the 1970s.

Both sides appeared to be satisfied with the appellate court decision.

Harley Lewin, the attorney for Louboutin, said his client is "very, very pleased" with the decision, adding that nontraditional trademarks such as colors have to be developed over time.

"Color doesn't start as something unique, it becomes unique," he said.

"More and more I think you'll see this coming because of the need to differentiate your product from others on the shelf," he said. "It will have influence on a far broader sense than just the fashion industry."

David Bernstein, legal counsel to YSL, said in a Wednesday statement, "We are happy to have achieved a victory in defending against Louboutin's lawsuit."

Bernstein reemphasized that YSL had not infringed on Louboutin's trademark and "will continue to produce monochromatic shoes with red outsoles."

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