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Sole Rights?

Aug 12, 2011 • Businesses, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Economic Debates, Innovation, Regulation • 110 Views    2 Comments

Suddenly, a red sole has become much more than the bottom of a shoe. The trademark of designer Christian Louboutin, his red soles are supposed to represent glamour, luxury and hidden status. Or, as stated by Mr. Louboutin, “A shoe has so much more to offer than just a walk.”   

Agreeing, fashion house Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), designed its own line of luxury shoes with colored soles and wound up in a Manhattan courthouse. Louboutin claimed trademark infringement. Saying a red shoe sole is “ornamental and functional,” the court supported YSL.

In a TED talk, Johanna Blakley explains that a jacket and most other clothing cannot receive intellectual property protection because they are “utilitarian”. A logo on the jacket can be protected but not the jacket or shoe. Contrary to what I would have expected, she believes that the industry is helped by the absence of protection. Copying begets trends; copying stimulates innovation. The threat of copying makes people repeatedly move onward to newer, better, and more unique designs.

Here and here in past econlife posts, you can read more about fashion copycats.

The Economic Lesson

Shoe designers compete in monopolistically competitive markets. The characteristics of monopolistic competition include many sellers with a similar product, sellers creating an individual, unique identity, and sellers having some control over price. The competitive behavior of beauty salons, supermarkets, and clothing manufacturers is also shaped by a monopolistically competitive market structure.

From most competitive to least competitive, the four basic competitive market structures are: perfect competition, monopolistic competition, oligopoly, monopoly.

An Economic Question: In a monopolistically competitive market, why have Louboutin’s red soles been valuable?

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  • wange12

    If monopolistically competitive market has sellers with similar products, then companies need to come up with ways to make their products seem the best and appeal to buyers. A designer such as Christian Louboutin realizes this so he will use the highest quality products to make his shoes. He will also dedicate a lot of detailed and meticulous handwork to make each pair of shoes; thus, a lot of labor goes into each product. Taking into account the amount of labor and resources needed to create the high quality shoes, the designer can sell the shoes for a higher price.

  • keimk12

    The red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes give the company a unique identity in a monopolistically competitive market. The recognizable red sole separates Louboutin shoes from similar products manufactured by other companies such as YSL, Prada, and Jimmy Choo.

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