NEW YORK - The bright red soles on French footwear designer Christian Louboutin's high-heeled shoes are so distinctive they deserve trademark protection, a U.S. appeals court has ruled.
A three judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed on Wednesday a lower court's finding that a single colour could not be trademarked in the fashion industry.
Paris-based Louboutin, whose pumps have graced many famous feet, sued rival Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) in April 2011 in Manhattan federal court over what he claimed is his signature use of lacquered red on shoe soles.
In August 2011, Manhattan federal judge Victor Marrero denied Louboutin's request for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented YSL from selling pumps with red soles.
But in Wednesday's ruling, the appeals court panel said Louboutin's long-standing use of the red sole was "a distinctive symbol that qualifies for trademark protection."
However, Judges Chester Straub, Jose Cabranes and Debra Ann Livingston limited Louboutin's trademark to shoes where the sole stands out in contrast to the rest of the pump.
The finding would allow YSL to produce a monochrome red shoe with a red sole, the opinion said.
Harley Lewin, a lawyer for Louboutin, said he was pleased by the opinion, but declined further comment until he had reviewed the finding with his client.
YSL representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. YSL is part of French fashion company PPR SA.
The opinion based its reasoning on a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. and on the Lanham Act, which governs trademark law.
The Qualitex decision left open the possibility of defending a single colour trademark on the grounds that its use, under certain circumstances, is uniquely associated with a brand, the appeals court said.
YSL has argued that Louboutin's red sole trademark was obtained fraudulently and is seeking to cancel it.