PARIS — Shoe designer Christian Louboutin claimed an important victory in his ongoing battle to trademark red soles, after the European Court of Justice on Tuesday supported the company’s claim that the use of a specific shade of red on the underside of its shoes constitutes a recognizable characteristic of the brand.
The ruling by the European Union’s highest court comes in the context of a dispute between Louboutin and Dutch high street shoe brand Van Haren dating back to 2012. A Dutch district court in The Hague asked the European Court of Justice to rule on the nature of Louboutin’s trademark before it settles the matter.
At issue was whether Louboutin’s trademark should be considered a shape trademark or a position trademark — an important distinction as European trademark law does not protect signs consisting exclusively of the shape of a product.
Louboutin’s lawyers argued, on the contrary, that the trademark consisted of “the color red [Pantone 18‑1663 TP] applied to the sole of a shoe,” regardless of the shape of the sole.
“The European Court of Justice today confirmed that the legal regime governing shape trademarks does not apply to Christian Louboutin’s ‘red sole’ mark. The red color applied on the sole of a woman’s high heel shoe is a position mark, as Maison Christian Louboutin has maintained for many years. Maison Christian Louboutin warmly welcomes this judgement,” Louboutin said in a statement.
“This case will now be referred back to The Hague Court, which is expected to confirm the validity of the red sole trademark,” it added.
Alexis Mourot, chief operating officer and general manager of the privately held firm, said the ruling meant the court effectively recognized that the red sole was a signature of the Louboutin brand.
“The ruling is very short, which is very rare, and it’s very clear. This is a total victory for the brand and we are very pleased that it confirms the registration of the brand for all of Europe,” he told WWD. “This decision is beyond appeal.”
He said he expected the Dutch court to rule on the matter fairly rapidly.
Louboutin’s fortunes have been mixed during the house’s legal battles for a monopoly on red-soled shoes. The designer prevailed in a hard-fought legal battle with Yves Saint Laurent in New York in 2012, but lost a similar case in Switzerland last year.
The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland in Lausanne found that the red soles are merely an aesthetic element. The fact that the brand has won the battle for trademark status in other markets including China, Australia and Russia does not mean the shoes should enjoy the same status in Switzerland, the court said.
Louboutin came upon his signature color when he, unhappy with the look of a shoe, took a coworker’s red nail polish and painted one sole red. “It transformed the shoe and it really became my drawing,” he said last year. “I thought, ‘This is it. You just have to outline it with color.’”