Shoe designer Christian Louboutin has won a court battle to protect the red soles for which the brand is known.
Louboutin originally took Dutch high street brand Van Haren to court after it began selling high-heeled shoes with red soles, and the case has now made it to the EU’s highest court.
The designer registered the red soles as a trademark for footwear in 2010, and more specifically for high-heeled shoes in 2013.
In a previous ruling, the EU’s advocate general said the red soles could not be protected as they relate to a shape, which does not fall under the remit of the EU’s trademark laws.
However, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday that because the soles in question did not consist only of a shape, but also of a colour, they were shielded by the trademark rules.
“The mark does not relate to a specific shape of sole for high-heeled shoes since the description of that mark explicitly states that the contour of the shoe does not form part of the mark and is intended purely to show the positioning of the red colour covered by the registration,” the ECJ said in a statement.
The designer said it “warmly” welcomed the ruling, and added: “The court in the Hague will deliver the final ruling on the matter based on the ECJ decision.
“The red colour applied on the sole of a woman’s high heel shoe is a position mark, as Maison Christian Louboutin has maintained for many years.”
Elaine O’Hare, senior associate and IP specialist at law firm Stevens & Bolton, said the court’s surprise ruling made it seem “likely that Louboutin will be allowed to develop a monopoly for red-soled high heeled shoes”.
“The fashion and luxury goods industry will welcome this victory for Louboutin, in particular brands which rely on specific colours, colour combinations or patterns placed on products as a badge of origin – and it may encourage brands to try to trademark other colours for shoes and other products,” said Ms O’Hare.
Sanjay Kapur, partner and trademark attorney at intellectual property firm Potter Clarkson LLP, added: “The ruling is unusual in that it did not follow the earlier opinion by the court’s advocate general but will undoubtedly be welcome news for Louboutin, who should be able to exert its EU trademark rights against copy-cat products and maintain the cachet and appeal of its shoes.
“Losing this case could have resulted in a multitude of similar red sole coloured products flooding the EU market, which could have caused irreparable damage to the prestige brand’s goodwill and dilution of its trademark rights.”
Additional reporting by agencies