French fashion designer Christian Louboutin might lose the right to trademark his famed red soles, reported Vogue.
A court adviser recently stated that he may not be authorised to stop others from selling the same kind of sole. Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, advised The Netherlands court that Louboutin’s trademark protection rulings on the shade of red dating from 2010 and 2013, could be invalid.
“A trademark combining colour and shape may be refused or declared invalid on the grounds set out under EU trademark law,” the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in a statement, outlining Maciej Szpunar’s advice to the judges hearing the case.
Szpunar expressed “Doubts as to whether the red can perform the essential function of a trademark, that of identifying its proprietor, when that colour is used out of context – separately from the shape of a sole.” Simply put, Louboutin’s signature shade of red could not be considered separate from the shape of the sole, and shapes are usually not protected under EU trademark law.
Sanjay Kapur, partner and trademark attorney at intellectual property firm, Potter Clarkson LLP, added, “Whilst relevant consumers may instantly recognise a red sole shoe being uniquely associated with Louboutin, trying to persuade the courts to grant monopoly rights with such a ‘badge of origin’ may well be an insurmountable hurdle.”
“This could mean that Louboutin would not be able to stop its competitors, including haute couture fashion houses, from offering shoes with red soles. The red sole could therefore become ubiquitous, which would seriously reduce the cachet associated with the Louboutin brand,” Kapur clarified.
Louboutin’s case against Van Haren dates back to 2012 when the brand released a line of Louboutin lookalikes. At the time, the District Court in The Hague agreed that Van Haren’s shoes infringed the Christian Louboutin trademark and ordered Van Haren to stop producing shoes with red soles. Van Haren appealed against the decision and in 2014 after which the case was referred to the ECJ for “clarification”.
Louboutin battled Yves Saint Laurent in 2012 in a New York court over similar trademark issues, and won the US trademark as a result. The ECJ’s new statement, however, is likely to be highly influential on the judges’ current decision on European brand guidelines, which are yet to be made.
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