The famous shoe designer Louboutin successfully overturned a district court’s ruling that the famous red sole of the ultra-expensive shoes were trademark worthy. French designer Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) left the courthouse claiming victory as well in that their solid red shoes “don’t infringe Louboutin’s mark.” The iconic red soles of the Louboutin shoe’s are a symbol of the brand much like the blue box of Tiffany’s jewelry and are important to the exclusivity of the brand. The court however, ruled that the distinctive color of the sole was not subject to exclusive use allowing competitor YSL to produce a shoe comprised totally (including the sole) of the famous red hue. Now the question is, was the court correct in determining that colors alone are not trademark worthy and how does this apply in the international fashion market?
It is my opinion that the court was correct in determining the red color of Louboutin soles cannot be used exclusively. A color is too simple to be monopolized by a company simply because they used it first, or are more well known for using it. The real key is the application of the color to the brand itself. Much like the Tiffany box, the red soles are the identifying feature of Louboutin shoes. If the court were to allow another shoe company to replicate the red sole there would be nothing left to distinguish Louboutin from other competitors. The court was correct in distinguishing between the use of the color for an entire shoe as opposed to just the sole.
Important in all of this litigation is the application of the trademark in the international fashion market. According to the World Customs Organization, the fashion industry as a whole loses “up to $9.2 billion per year to counterfeiters.” It is vitally important to designers around the world to be able to protect the features that make their brands desirable. In this case, Louboutin may not be able to prevent YSL from producing all red shoes, but they will be able to protect other companies from degrading the image Louboutin built with their iconic red soles.