The red sole of Christian Louboutin’s exquisitely crafted heels is a sign of luxury the world over. But recently three European countries ruled it’s not an exclusive one. According to Simon Frankel and Aysha Qureshi of Covington & Burling, the trademark on the red sole has been declared void in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg by the Brussels District Court.
The trademark is “one of the most litigated intellectual property rights in the fashion industry in recent years,” they say. The company brought a case against a Netherlands-based shoe company for infringing on the sole, but the Brussels court ruled it couldn’t be trademarked under European law. Frankel and Qureshi explain the decision was based on the judge determining it was a shape mark versus a color mark, and under European trademark law, if a shape gives substantial value to goods, it cannot be registered. This prevents “a company monopolizing a technical, functional or aesthetic quality,” they say.
“It remains to be seen whether the decision in the Benelux could impact Louboutin’s trademark registrations in other European countries,” say Frankel and Qureshi. A 2012 ruling in the U.S. upheld Louboutin’s trademark and “the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Second Circuit specifically affirmed that single-color marks could receive trademark protection with the Louboutin red sole being a ‘distinctive symbol.’” For now, if you have a hankering for a pair of red-soled shoes without the hefty price tag, it’s time to book a ticket to Brussels, which will likely cost less than a pair of Louboutins, at least if you’re flying EasyJet.