Distinction, that was the key. The day Louboutin took his assistant’s nail polish in 1993 and painted the sole of the shoe he was making, he was telling the entire world, or at least the European Union, that shoes with red soles must be Louboutin’s.
In 2021, the French shoe designer is suing Amazon for trademark infringement… again.
The worldwide well-known online marketplace is offering High Heeled shoes with red soles, similar to those protected by Louboutin’s trade mark.
The case has been referred by the Luxembourg Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Red Sole Monopoly recognised in 2018
Louboutin’s red is well protected: on 12th June 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in Case C-163/16 Christian Louboutin and Christian Louboutin SAS v Van Haren Schoenen BV that a trade mark consisting of a colour applied to the sole of a shoe may be registered in the EU.
The Court held that a sign, such as that at issue, cannot, in any event, be regarded as consisting ‘exclusively’ of a shape, where the main element of that sign is a specific colour designated by an internationally recognised identification code.
Previously, the Paris Court of Appeal had also considered that the application of a colour to a specific location on a product constituted a distinct and protectable trademark.
Therefore, in the European Union, only Louboutin is allowed to paint the sole of its shoes with the bright red number 18.1663TP in the Pantone colour chart.
Louboutin vs Amazon - Chapter 1, Belgium
Marketplaces like Amazon are online sales platforms connecting buyers and sellers.
Let’s say that a seller other than Louboutin wishes to offer Red Sole Shoes through Amazon. Should Amazon be liable for trademark infringement by a seller on the platform?
Is the storage of counterfeit goods for sale considered an infringement of trade mark rights in the European Union?
Amazon was sued by Louboutin in Belgium in order to engage its liability.
In August 2019, Amazon was found directly liable for the counterfeiting of the red Louboutin sole by a Brussels Court even though Amazon was only in charge of the storage and shipping of the products.
However, in April 2020, in Coty vs Amazon case, the Court of Justice of the European Union excluded any liability of Amazon judging that only the seller and not the platform has the purpose of offering those goods for sale.
National Courts within the European Union are bound by the Court of Justice of the European Union decisions. Based on the recent Coty Vs Amazon C 567/18 decision, the Brussels Court of Appeal partially overturned Louboutin's decision in June 2020. Therefore, Louboutin lost its case.
Louboutin vs Amazon - chapter 2, Luxembourg
Amazon is evolving, mainly through new services launched during the pandemic. Nowadays, Amazon not only stores and ships the products, but also promotes and advertises counterfeit products through its "Fulfilment by Amazon" offer. This new era of online services could be considered as the platform's active involvement in the sale of infringing products.
Louboutin has sued Amazon before the Court of Luxembourg. The novelty of the case compared to the 2020 Belgian lawsuit is the "Fulfilment by Amazon" offer.
Is the use of a sign identical with a trade mark in an advertisement displayed on a website attributable to its operator if, in the perception of a reasonably well informed and reasonably observant internet user, that operator has played an active part in the preparation of that advertisement or if that advertisement may be perceived by such an internet user as forming part of that operator’s own commercial communication?
Is the shipment, in the course of trade and without the consent of the proprietor of a trade mark, to the final consumer of goods bearing a sign identical with the mark constitutes a use attributable to the shipper only if the shipper has actual knowledge that that sign has been affixed to those goods?
Is such a shipper the user of the sign concerned if the shipper itself or an economically linked entity has previously made an active contribution to the display, in the course of trade, of an advertisement for the goods bearing that sign or has taken the final consumer’s order on the basis of that advertisement?
The Court of Justice of the European Union was seized on those terms by the Luxembourg Court on 8th March 2021.
Given the reasoning of the previous ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, we foresee a different issue for Amazon this time. Since Amazon is now actively promoting the goods, the Court of Justice of the European Union might consider that the platform The expected judgement will be crucial for Amazon services in the entire European Union.
Are you considering exporting your products to the European Union? OLN’s French Practice and IP Department can assist you to make sure you are not infringing EU trademark law.
By Patricia Bodalo
French Practice, Oldham, Li & Nie
Written: June 2021