Christian Louboutin Scores a Win in the Battle Over Its Red Sole Design in China

Christian Louboutin recently scored another victory in court over its closely guarded red sole design.

In a judgment dated Dec. 24, 2019, as first reported by The Fashion Law, the China Supreme Court ruled in favor of the brand in the case Christian Louboutin v. China National Intellectual Property Administration. It wrote that Louboutin’s red sole is a lawful “position and single-color combination” mark and should be recognized as a registrable trademark.

The French fashion label has been seeking registration for the red sole mark in China since 2010. Its application was initially refused by the China Trademark Office — now part of CNIPA — and again by the office’s Review Board in 2015. (Both committees considered the mark to be a “device mark that lacks distinctiveness.”) Louboutin then submitted an appeal to the Beijing Intellectual Property Court followed by a further appeal to the Beijing High Court, which ruled that the red sole is a “position and single-color combination” mark and tasked the CNIPA with reexamining the trademark’s distinctiveness.

The CNIPA applied for a retrial with the China Supreme Court, but Louboutin countered, arguing that the red sole trademark is “inherently distinctive” and that allowing its registration will not affect competition in the market.

The Supreme Court’s judgment in December did not support the CNIPA’s argument that the subject mark is not an acceptable trademark. It did not make a ruling on the issue of distinctiveness but ordered CNIPA to reexamine the distinctiveness of the mark based on the Supreme Court ruling.

Louboutin has been involved in a series of legal disputes over its red soles: It secured trademark registration for its red soles in 2008 in the U.S. as well as in 2010 in Europe, and it has been fighting ever since to protect the mark.

In 2011, the brand took Yves Saint Laurent to Manhattan federal court over a pair of all-red YSL pumps — a case that resulted in Louboutin’s mark being upheld but modified. (The judge ruled that Louboutin would only be able to protect its mark on red-soled shoes with contrasting uppers, not monochrome red pumps.) And last February, The Hague’s district court ruled in Louboutin’s favor, barring Dutch company Van Haren from selling women’s high-heeled shoes with red soles.

FN has reached out to the Christian Louboutin brand for comment.

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