(CN) - French fashion designer Christian Louboutin has the exclusive right to use his signature red soles on high heels, except when the shoe itself is also red, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
Since 1992, Louboutin, a designer of high-end women's footwear and accessories, has painted the soles of his high heels with a high-gloss red lacquer. He trademarked the look in 2008.
His companies, Christian Louboutin S.A. and Christian Louboutin LLC, sued Yves Saint Laurent last year after the French fashion house announced plans to sell a line of monochrome women's shoes, including red shoes with red soles.
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled for Louboutin's competitor, holding that a single color cannot serve as a trademark in the fashion industry.
But the federal appeals court in New York disagreed, saying Louboutin's red sole "has acquired limited 'secondary meaning' as a distinctive symbol that identifies the Louboutin brand."
"We hold that the lacquered red outsole, as applied to a shoe with an 'upper' of a different color, has 'come to identify and distinguish' the Louboutin brand, and is therefore a distinctive symbol that qualifies for trademark protection," Judge Jose Cabranes wrote for the three-judge panel.
However, the 2nd Circuit said the trademark does not extend to shoes whose soles match the rest of the shoe -- "in other words, when a red sole is used on a monochromatic red shoe."
Though the ruling doesn't keep the Yves Saint Laurent's monochromatic red shoes off shelves, it maintains the broader trademark for Louboutin, who is widely known for his pricey red-soled heels.