It appears that the Superior Court of Quebec may have put an end
to a contentious legal debate involving the Charter
of the French Language (the
FrenchCharter) and the posting
of English-only trademarks on public signs in Quebec.
More specifically, the French Charter provides that French is
the official language of the province of Quebec and seeks to ensure
that the French language remain the predominant language of work,
communication, commerce and business. With respect to employment
matters, we remind you that the French Charter expressly provides
that all Quebec workers have a right to work in French. In this
regard, every Quebec employer must draft its written communications
to its staff in French. Job application forms and employment offers
must be drafted in French as well. In addition, enterprises with at
least fifty (50) employees in Quebec must undergo a francization
process whereby it must ensure that the use of French is
generalized at all levels of its business, namely by ensuring a
generalized use of French through:
The knowledge of French on the part of management and other
members of personnel;
The use of French as the language of work as well as the
language of all internal communications;
The use of French in working documents, including manuals;
The use of French in information technologies provided to
employees, including computers, software, keyboards and email
The French Charter also provides that public signs and
commercial advertising must be in French. The Regulation respecting
the Language of Commerce and Business (the
French Regulation), enacted pursuant to the French
Charter, does however provide a specific exception to this rule by
permitting that a trademark may be posted exclusively in English on
public signs and posters, at the condition that no French version
of the trademark has been registered.
In 2011, the Office québécois de la
langue française (the
OQLF), the authoritative body responsible for
ensuring compliance with the French Charter, launched an official
campaign condemning the posting of English-only trademarks as store
banners. The OQLF's position is that the posting of a
non-French trademark as a business name on a store banner or
signage must be accompanied by a French descriptive or generic
term. The OQLF bases its position on other provisions of the French
Charter and the French Regulation, which state that a firm name
must be in French, or may appear in English only if it is
accompanied by a French generic term.
As a result of this campaign, many retailers were ordered by the
OQLF to modify their store signage by adding a French
In response to the OQLF's position, a group of large
retailers including Gap, Costco, Wal-Mart and Best Buy filed an
action for a declaratory judgment asking the Quebec Superior Court
to rule on this significant issue.
On April 9, 2014, in a long-awaited decision the Quebec
Superior Court declared that the posting of a trademark in a
language other than French in commercial advertising, including
storefront banners, is valid and does not contravene the French
The Court relied on various arguments to support its judgment,
including the following:
The OQLF's proposed interpretation of the French Charter
has the effect of depriving the legal exception for trademarks of
any practical application.
Up until recent years, the OQLF permitted the posting of
English-only trademarks on retail store banners and confirmed that
such retailers, in doing so, were in compliance with the French
The provisions of the French Charter and the French Regulation
were clear and supported by a consistent interpretation for two
The Court further added that it is up to the Quebec legislator
to amend the law if there is a concern that the French face of
Quebec is being threatened by the posting of English-only
trademarks. The Court further added that nothing prevents Quebec
businesses from voluntarily adding a French descriptive term to
their trademark on their signage, in order to support the French
identity of Quebec.
The Attorney General of Quebec is currently reviewing the
judgment and has thirty (30) days to decide whether to seek an
appeal of the decision.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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