And Finally

Digging its heels in

French brand Louboutin wins claim on iconic shoe design


The red soles in question

Christian Louboutin is a veteran of trademark battles, filing various lawsuits to protect its red-soled stilettos.

The French shoemaker locked horns with YSL in the United States, for example, making the case that it had exclusive rights to the red lacquer coatings on the bottoms of its high-end high-heels.

In 2018, the highest court in the European Union was also asked to rule on its argument that the design was distinctive enough to be protected.

The publicity generated by these cases, regardless of their outcomes, has enhanced the allure of the Louboutin brand, as well as its claim that the coating of its heels in red is an original design.

Fittingly, the French firm has just won a decisive battle in the Chinese market over its red sole trademark too.

In a decision announced last week, the Beijing Intellectual Property Court ruled that Guangdong Wanlima, a producer of leather products, had violated competition laws by offering footwear that mimicked Louboutin’s design.

The brand’s red-soled shoes and the red sole “decoration” amounted to trademarks with “a certain influence,” the court said, responding to evidence from Louboutin that it had sold shoes worth more than Rmb900 million ($129.9 million) in China since 2011.

The court also ruled in favour of the shoemaker’s charge that Wanlima had used the Chinese word hongdixie, which means ‘red sole shoes’, improperly in promoting its own footwear.

As a result, Wanlima was ordered to pay the French brand Rmb5 million ($721,800) in damages and pay Rmb445,000 in legal expenses.

Unlike in some other countries, where colours can have legal significance in trademarks and owners can claim exclusive rights to registered products or services, protections are difficult to achieve in China, says Dao Insights, an advisory firm.

The Chinese National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) has typically rejected trademark applications with single colours on the grounds that they lack distinctiveness or give the owner too much power in the market, it adds.

The ruling came as an important win in Christian Louboutin’s largest overseas market, where many fashion fans have struggled to pronounce the firm’s name.

Instead, it has been more popularly known as hongdixie. Most shoppers search under this term as a keyword when they are hunting for the brand online.

The case adds momentum to the argument that China’s intellectual property landscape is maturing, the Financial Times notes. Besides Louboutin, foreign brands such as New Balance and Manolo Blahnik have also won trademark battles recently. Manolo Blahnik, in particular, is expected to make more of an effort to grow its sales in China as a result, after a court ruled that a local trademark registration of the Spanish brand had been made in bad faith.

The legal wrangle had taken nearly 22 years to resolve, however. “I would have a heart attack if I really had to add it all up,” Kristina Blahnik, the company’s chief executive, previously acknowledged to the Financial Times.

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