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Sole Decision: Everyone Wins in Louboutin-YSL Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 05, 2012 3:01 PM

There are plenty of perks that came with being a Gen Y child: Goonies, slap bracelets, and Mall Madness. The first incarnation of New Kids on the Block. And participation ribbons. Y-ers get a pat on the back just for showing up.

Wednesday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided to apply the "everyone wins" spirit of the We Generation to the most important intellectual property decision of our time: the Louboutin-Yves St. Laurent (YSL) red-soled shoe battle. Their decision? Christian Louboutin's sole deserves trademark protection, but Yves St. Laurent didn't infringe that trademark with its monochromatic shoes.

If you don't know the difference between Loubs and Tribute pumps, we'll bring you up to speed with a condensed version of the facts.

Christian Louboutin is famous for his red-soled shoes. They're beautiful, sought-after, and very expensive. Louboutin holds a trademark on the red-soled design.

In 2011, Yves St. Laurent made monochromatic shoes with red soles. These, too, were beautiful, sought-after, and very expensive.

Louboutin responded to the monochrome YSLs with a trademark infringement lawsuit.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in Louboutin-YSL Round One that a color cannot be trademarked. That decision could have turned the entire fashion world on its well-coiffed head: Hermes orange, Valentino red, and Tiffany's Pantone-credited blue would all have been compromised, according to Elle UK.

This week, everyone can relax because the Second Circuit has concluded that Judge Marrero's holding that a single color can never serve as a trademark in the fashion industry "is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co."

The appellate court further concluded, "Louboutin's trademark, consisting of a red, lacquered outsole on a high fashion woman's shoe, has acquired limited 'secondary meaning' as a distinctive symbol that identifies the Louboutin brand."

But that doesn't mean that Louboutin has exclusive rights to red-soled shoes: The Second Circuit limited the trademark to uses in which "the red outsole contrasts with the color of the remainder of the shoe." Since Louboutin tried to stop YSL from using a red sole as part of a monochrome red shoe, the court affirmed the District Court's ruling as it applied to the use of red lacquered outsoles in all situations.

Louboutin has an enforceable trademark, but YSL's pumps didn't infringe on that trademark because they didn't feature contrasting red roles. In other words, everyone leaves the Louboutin-YSL with a little something, just for participating.

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