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Christian Louboutin Sues YSL Over Red-Soled Shoes

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on January 30, 2012 5:01 AM

The footwear battle between iconic French fashion labels Christian Louboutin and Yves St. Laurent (YSL) over red shoes is heating up.

Since 1992 Louboutin made shoes with a very specific signature: "Chinese red" soles. The designer thought it gave his footwear a specific "energy."

Louboutin sold 240,000 pairs of shoes priced at $1,000 a pop since then. That's why the company was none-too-pleased when YSL made shoes with the same signature sole. They trampled on Louboutin's toes, if you will.

Louboutin sued, claiming it registered the color with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. District Court Judge Victor Marrero denied the label's request for a preliminary injunction.

Louboutin appealed the decision, and a hearing was held this week. And now the legal battle may be "stepping up" a notch.

The Los Angeles Times was right when its columnist noted the YSL/Louboutin battle would result in a wide use of shoe-related puns in the news media.

But beyond this blogger's egregious stab at puns lies an interesting legal issue. Should Louboutin really hold exclusive claim to produce red-bottomed shoes?

Judge Marrero pointed out that Louboutin would be "unlikely to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection, even if it has gained enough public recognition in the market to have acquired secondary meaning."

After all, color is important in fashion. And Judge Marrero pointed out it is necessary in order for "robust competition." Would it be fair if some other fashion designer trademarked a shade of blue?

As in house counsel, you may want to take note of the Louboutin/YSL red shoe lawsuit. There will be interesting IP implications if Louboutin prevails -- or loses.

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