On October 9, 2012, six retailers, BEST BUY, COSTCO, GAP, OLD
NAVY, GUESS? and WAL-MART, filed a motion in the Superior Court of
Québec seeking a declaratory judgement against the
Office québécoise de la langue
française (OQLF) that the use of their trademarks
on signage, without a French descriptor, is compliant with the
Charter of the French Language (the Charter) and its
This is the result of a campaign launched by the OQLF in 2011
that aims to require more public use of French on commercial
signage. While the Charter generally requires French as the
language of commerce in Québec, since 1993 the Charter's
regulations provided an exception for recognized trademarks.
Businesses have relied upon this exception to display their
trademarks without any additional descriptive wording.
However, in a move that has surprised and threatens to
inconvenience many businesses, the OQLF has recently made a
distinction between trademarks and firm names, finding public signs
to be display of a firm name, vs. trademark and, relying upon
Section 27 of the Charter's Regulation respecting the
language of commerce and business (Regulation), now requires
such names to be accompanied by a French term that describes the
nature of the business. The campaign targets all businesses, not
just retailers, but these retailers have decided to seek the
Court's interpretation of the Charter and its regulations,
which could put an end to the debate, unless further appeals are
According to the motion, the OQLF has apparently threatened to
suspend Guess? and Wal-Mart's francization certificates. These
certificates are issued by the OQLF if it considers the use of
French to be generalized at all levels of the business. It is yet
to be seen if other retailers or organizations will intervene in
this case. The motion will certainly be followed by trademark
practitioners and all businesses affected by the OQLF's new
interpretation on signage requirements in Québec.
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