Steve Madden and YSL Are Entangled in a Legal Battle Over a Pair of Sandals

Steve Madden isn’t backing down on the latest round of designer copycat claims.

In a complaint filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the shoe company accused French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent of attempting “to stifle legitimate competition” through tortious interference and unfair trade practices, among other illegal methods.

The dispute stems from two Steve Madden designs — the high-heeled Kananda shoe and the flat Sicily sandal — which YSL has said infringe on both the design patent it holds to its platform Tribute sandals, as well as alleged trade dress rights to its shoes.

Madden stopped selling the Kananda shoe in early 2017, however its Sicily sandal is still available at numerous retailers. According to the complaint, YSL has sent cease and desist letters to at least 13 Madden vendors, including Dillard’s, DSW, Walmart, Shoes.com and Zappos, some of whom have pulled the sandal and asked the company to take back unsold inventory out of presumed fear of legal repercussions.

The U.S. footwear powerhouse, which expects revenues upwards of $1.62 billion in 2018, is seeking declaratory judgment of design patent and trade dress noninfringement.

“Steve Madden takes intellectual property claims very seriously and respects the legitimate rights of others,” said a representative from the company in a statement to FN. “But when it and especially its customers are faced with a baseless accusation that includes a clearly inapplicable patent, Steve Madden will not hesitate to defend itself and its customers to the fullest extent of the law.” (A representative from Yves Saint Laurent did not respond to a request for comment.)

YSL sandal patent and Steve Madden Sicily sandal comparison
A comparison of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘187 patent and Steven Madden’s Sicily sandal from the complaint.
CREDIT: Steve Madden, Ltd.

At issue in the suit are the alleged similarities between YSL’s patented platform design and Madden’s flat sandal, which the complaint calls “absurd and frivolous, as no ordinary observer could ever mistake” one style for the other. It also calls YSL’s trade dress rights into question, arguing that not only are Madden’s sandals markedly different in appearance, but that the features of its flat Tribute sandal are merely functional (which would disqualify them from trade dress protection), and the public is unlikely to confuse one for the other due to the difference in price and target consumer.

Madden has been involved in numerous similar legal disputes in the past: in 2009, the British fashion house Alexander McQueen brought a trade dress lawsuit against the brand, alleging that Madden’s Seryna bootie was a clear copy of McQueen’s Faithful bootie. The two companies settled out of court. The same year, Balenciaga brought a complaint against Madden over its look-alike Lego-inspired sandals, ultimately leading the U.S. giant to pay the French house an undisclosed sum.

Currently, the company is tussling with L.A.-based brand Cult Gaia over alleged trade dress infringement related to Cult Gaia’s signature bamboo Ark bag.

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