Things are looking up for Christian Louboutin in a five-year-long trademark dispute involving the French design house and Dutch company Van Haren.
The European Court of Justice today handed down a favorable ruling for the luxury label, supporting its claim that a specific shade of red on the soles of its shoes qualifies as a distinct and recognizable characteristic of the brand.
In 2012, Christian Louboutin sued Van Haren — which operates affordable-footwear outlets in The Netherlands — for allegedly infringing on its trademark by selling high-heeled women’s shoes with similar bottoms. (Louboutin had filed to register a trademark in the region in 2009, which he obtained in 2010.)
In 2013, Van Haren was forced to cease production of the shoes in question when the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Louboutin, finding that the red soles represented a distinctive marker for consumers.
Nevertheless, Van Haren had argued that the trademark in question was invalid — citing its connection to the shape of the shoe, an element that is not protected by EU trademark law.
In February, an opinion issued by of Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general for the European courts, seemed to side with Van Haren. At the time, Szpunar said that a trademark combining color and shape — such as Louboutin’s red-soled pumps — could be refused or declared invalid on the grounds of EU trademark law and sent the case back to Dutch courts for consideration.
After today’s ruling, the case has been referred to the District Court of the Hague. Nevertheless, Christian Louboutin said in a statement today that it expects the court to confirm the validity of the mark fairly quickly.
“The red color applied on the sole of a woman’s high heel shoe is a position mark, as Maison Christian Louboutin has maintained for many years,” the brand added. “[The company] warmly welcomes this judgement.”
While Louboutin has been victorious in trademark litigation in the U.S. — the designer successfully sued YSL in 2012 for trademark infringement — the brand has seen mixed rulings in other regions.
In February 2017, Swiss courts turned down a final appeal by the luxury label to trademark its heels there, finding that they are merely an aesthetic element. The courts further noted that the fact that the brand has won the battle for trademark status in other markets, including China, Australia and Russia, did not mean the shoes should receive the same status in Switzerland.
In December, Louboutin was awarded almost 10 lakh rupees ($156,078) in damages and a permanent injunction against two shoe dealers — Kamal Family Footwear and Adra Steps — for infringing on his red-sole trademark in India.
Christian Louboutin COO and GM Alexis Mourot told WWD that today’s EU ruling confirms the registration of the brand for all of Europe.
“The ruling is very short, which is very rare, and it’s very clear,” he said. “This is a total victory for the brand … This decision is beyond appeal.”