French Court Setback for Christian Louboutin

The court delivered a blow to the shoe designer after it ruled in favor of the local subsidiary of clothing chain Zara over the right to sell red-soled shoes.

PARIS — A French court delivered a blow to shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s red-sole trademark last week after it ruled in favor of the local subsidiary of clothing chain Zara over the right to sell red-soled shoes.

The Cour de Cassation, the final court of appeal, upheld a June 2011 decision by a court of appeal in favor of Zara, owned by Spanish manufacturing giant Inditex, and sentenced Louboutin to pay Zara 2,500 euros, or $3,600 at current exchange, as compensation.

Zara filed an appeal after the court that heard the case in the first instance ruled in favor of Louboutin, which had sued Zara France for counterfeiting and unfair competition on the grounds that Zara sold an open-toed shoe similar to its Yo Yo model.

In the ruling dated June 22, 2011, the court of appeal said the terms of Louboutin’s trademark registration were too vague, noting for instance that it did not contain a Pantone color reference for the red soles. It said Louboutin has since canceled that trademark and filed a fresh one containing additional information, including the Pantone shade in question.

It added there was no proven risk of confusion between Louboutin’s shoes and the Zara pair, which retailed for 49 euros, or $70, in the chain’s stores.

Last week’s ruling by the Cour de Cassation determined that there was no legal or procedural error in the case.

Inditex confirmed the verdict and said it had nothing further to add. Its lawyers in Paris declined to comment.

Alexis Mourot, group chief operating officer and general manager of Christian Louboutin, said the company was determined to continue defending its red soles.

“Another red sole trademark application has been successfully registered and we will enforce this trademark against any infringers,” he said.

The French court ruling does not necessarily set a precedent for similar cases being heard in other countries, since rules regarding trademark registrations vary from country to country, a source familiar with the case said.

Louboutin, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, is waiting for a panel of Appeals Court judges in the U.S. to rule whether a Manhattan Southern District judge was justified last year in questioning the validity of the red-sole mark, which Louboutin obtained in 2008.

The case is being watched closely to see if District Court Judge Victor Marrero’s opinion that no one designer should have a “monopoly” on any color, will have wide-ranging implications for other brands.