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Judge says Louboutin cannot monopolize red soles on shoes

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Louboutin could not stop Yves Saint Laurent from making its own red-soled shoes. Red-soled shoes are a trademark of high-end shoe designer Christian Louboutin. When people see the red-soled shoes they think “Louboutin” and in 2008 Louboutin secured a trademark for the red soles from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

When Yves Saint Laurent started to make its own red-soled shoes, Louboutin filed a lawsuit against the competitor for intellectual property infringement. The judge last week sided with Yves Saint Laurent, saying that colors can’t be trademarked in the world of fashion.

It will be interesting to see what happens next and whether the trademark will eventually be upheld or thrown out. This will hinge partly on whether the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or the court system has more say in who gets a trademark. The judge didn’t completely shut the book on the case yet; both sides are set to argue for and against the dismissal of the trademark for the red-soled shoes this week in court.

Colors have been trademarked in certain businesses, such as construction, in order to differentiate products. The judge didn’t believe that that should be the case in fashion, however, because color is a necessary component of all fashion. Some companies and designers have trademarked complicated uses of colors and patterns. Tiffany’s has trademarked its blue boxes and Burberry has trademarked its plaid. Levi Strauss & Co. has sued many companies that it accused of copying the stitching and pocket tags on its popular jeans.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Color Wars: Luxury Makers Battle Over Red-Soled Shoe,” Ray A. Smith and Ashby Jones, Aug. 11, 2011

John P. Aldrich
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