Au moment où nous publions cet article[i] qui revient sur la manière dont la marque célèbre de chaussures Louboutin se protège de la concurrence, la Cour d’appel de Paris a confirmé le jugement du Tribunal de Grande Instance qui affirmait que l’apposition de la couleur rouge sur la semelle d’un soulier à talon haut est protégeable au titre du droit des marques. C’est une nouvelle victoire pour Louboutin qui avait déjà eu gain de cause sur ce point devant la justice américaine en 2012.
En outre, Louboutin vient de remporter une nouvelle victoire, au niveau européen cette fois, puisque la Cour européenne de justice (CJUE) a décidé en faveur de la société française dans un cas qui l’oppose à la société néerlandaise, Van Haren, qui soutenait que la marque déposée par Louboutin était contraire à la législation européenne sur les marques. Les juges européens n’ont pas suivi l’avis de l’avocat général de la CJUE, Maciej Szpunar, qui avait donné raison à Van Haren, et ont considéré, au contraire, que « la marque ne porte pas sur une forme spécifique de semelle de chaussures à talons hauts, la description de cette marque indiquant expressément que le contour de la chaussure ne fait pas partie de la marque, mais sert uniquement à mettre en évidence l’emplacement de la couleur rouge visée par l’enregistrement ».
Nous ne manquerons pas de vous tenir informés des prochains épisodes dans la bataille de la maison Louboutin pour défendre l’exclusivité de sa marque.
Louboutin’s Shoes Or How To Learn Not To Be Walked Over
If you evoke Louboutin’s name, it will probably be associated by lots of people with red sole shoes, especially high heels.
Obviously, the famous luxury shoes designer Christian Louboutin has made red sole shoes his trademark since 1992 to the extent that this characteristic is even sometimes used to designate his creations rather than his name.
In order to protect himself from competition, Mr. Louboutin registered his red sole as a French figurative trademark on November 29, 2000.
Since a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union dated May 6th, 2003[i], it is effectively possible to register a colour as a trademark, on the condition that the color constitutes a sign that can be graphically represented and capable to distinguish the products and services of the holder from those of other companies.
More precisely, the graphic representation must be “clear, precise, complete by itself, easily accessible, intelligible, durable and objective”, as listed by the CJUE in a 2002 case[ii].
The trademark in question filed by Mr. Louboutin was composed of a picture of a sole with the following description: “shoe sole of the colour red”, and was designating “Shoes” in class 25.
Further to several judicial cases Mr. Louboutin brought, in order to safeguard his rights from opponents using red soles, all lost, his French Trademark n°3067674 was finally canceled in 2011 during the C. Louboutin versus Zara France case.
Accusing Zara France of counterfeiting because the firm was commercializing red-soled shoes, Mr. Louboutin’s arguments were dismissed. The French Court of Appeal (Cour d’appel)[i] and Supreme Court (Cour de cassation)[ii] ruled that “neither the form, nor the colour of the sign has been determined with enough clarity, precision and correctness to confer distinctiveness to the sign permitting to identify the origin of the shoe”.
Indeed, the colour of the sole was just described as “red” and the picture did not enable to immediately identify a sole without reading the description.
Further to this failure and to the loss of his trademark, Mr. Louboutin decided to file a new French trademark application in 2011, but more precise, in order to avoid cancellation.
This time, he chose to file a sketch of a high heeled sandal in dotted line, except for the outline of the sole which was continuous.
The following description was added: “The trademark consists of the colour red (Pantone 18.1663TP) applied to the sole of a shoe as shown (the outline of the shoe is therefore not part of the trademark but serves to show the positioning of the trademark).” and the application was designating “High-heeled shoes (except orthopaedic footwear)” in class 25.
This new trademark has permitted to reverse the trend and Mr. Louboutin finally won a new case on the basis of counterfeit of his red sole against the French company Kesslord.
Indeed, the red colour applied to the sole has been considered as a tridimensional sign satisfying the graphic representation’s requirements and, therefore, constituting a valid trademark.
Kesslord is a French company specialized in leather goods (bags, shoes…).
It offers to its customers to personalize items by choosing colour and texture, and proposes notably red soles for shoes.
When Mr. Louboutin found this out, he sent a formal notice to Kesslord, asking to withdraw the red colour from its personalization catalogue.
As a conservation measure, Kesslord has withdrawn the red colour of its catalogue and, a short time afterwards, asked for cancellation of Mr. Louboutin’s French trademark n°3869370, arguing that it didn’t satisfy the trademark’s requirements of clarity, precision, accessibility, intelligibility and objectivity.
In fact, Kesslord considered that the sign was likely to vary depending on the type of shoes on which it was applied. Consequently, the exact extent of the protection was not determined.
Kesslord wanted the Court to reduce the protection solely to “red colour (Pantone code n° 18 1663TP) applied to the totality of the sole of a fine stiletto, doted of 10cm heels, the colour not being continued on the heel”.
On Mr. Louboutin’s side, he argued that the sign was a guarantee for the commercial origin of the shoes on which it was affixed and permitted to identify two concrete and immediately perceptible elements: the red colour defined with the Pantone Code and the location on the outside sole of the high heel which made of it a position trademark. The rest of the shoe, dotted on the sketch, was not part of the field of protection, in a manner that if the shoe varies, the sign would stay constant.
The First Instance Court of Paris (Tribunal de grande instance) ruled on March 16, 2017 that the figurative trademark was distinctive and able to be graphically represented, so valid according to CJCE case-law, and rejected the cancellation action.
As the graphic representation of the trademark comprised a defined form, which was a high heel‘s sole with a clear curve, and a distinctly identified colour with a Pantone code in the description, the criteria of clarity, precision, objectivity and consistency of the graphic representation required by the CJCE were fulfilled.
This new decision marks a new era for Mr. Louboutin, who can finally defend his rights on the red sole.
But this saga is far from over: a new episode is coming up soon as an appeal was filed on April 3, 2017 against the First Instance Court’s decision.
We should therefore be informed in the near future if the French jurisdictions will consecrate a monopoly for the position trademark of the red sole shoes.
[i] Cet article été rédigé en anglais par nos experts, Gilles Escudier (CPI et mandataire européen en marques, modèles et dessins) et Anne-Sophie Pillot (juriste en propriété industrielle), pour le Bulletin de l’ECTA de mars 2018. Il est republié ici avec l’accord de l’ECTA.
 Tribunal de grande instance de Paris, 3e ch., 1re sect., 16 mars 2017 (RG 2015/11131 ; M20170192)
 CJCE, 18 June 2002, Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV vs. Remington Consumer Products Ltd., C-299/99 and CJCE, 25 January 2007, Dyson Ltd. vs. Registrar of Trade Marks, C-321/03
 CJCE, 27 November 2003, Shield Mark BV vs. Joost Kist h.o.d.n. Memex, C-283/01
[i] Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 – ch. 1, 22 juin 2011, n°09/00405
[ii] Cour de cassation, civile, ch. Commerciale, 30 mai 2012, 11-20.724
[i] CJCE, 6 May 2003, Libertel Groep vs Bureau Benelux Marques, C-104/01
[ii] CJCE, 12 December 2002, Ralf Sieckmann vs Deutsches Patente und Markenamt, C-273/00Article rédigé par Anne-Sophie PILLOT, Gilles ESCUDIER