French shoemaker Christian Louboutin, famous for his stiletto heels, has suffered a severe setback in his battle to protect the trademark red sole.
The fashion designer, whose shoes start at £500 for a classic black court and are a favourite with celebrities such as Kate Winslet, Victoria Beckham and Margot Robbie, has been in court trying to protect the signature red colour of the sole of his shoes – a look that dates back to 1992, when Louboutin painted a sole red with nail varnish borrowed from an assistant.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general Maciej Szpunar said the combination of a colour and a shape may be refused trademark protection. The ECJ will now issue a ruling.
The French designer went to court in the Netherlands to prevent the Dutch high street shoe chain VanHaren from selling its own red-soled shoes, in a range endorsed by actor Halle Berry. VanHaren argued the existing Louboutin trademark was invalid.
The case was referred to the ECJ in 2014.
Elaine O’Hare, senior associate at UK law firm Stevens & Bolton, told World Intellectual Property Review: “The brand will be seriously restricted in being able to protect the red sole as a ‘badge of origin’, and there is a danger that the once-exclusive red soles will no longer be limited to Louboutin shoes.”
O’Hare said the case will be of “great interest” to other luxury fashion brands seeking to protect their own signature shapes or colours.