Canada: Non-French Trademarks On Public Signs In Quebec Live To See Another Day

Last Updated: May 5 2015
Article by Tomek Nishijima

On May 1, 2015, the Quebec Court of Appeal issued its decision concerning the interpretation of Quebec's Charter of the French language (the "French Charter") and its interplay with trademarks. The Court upheld the decision of the Quebec Superior Court confirming that businesses can continue to use their registered trademarks on public signs outside their premises in the Province of Québec without the need to add French generic language. François Guay, Christian Bolduc and Jean-Sébastien Dupont of the Montreal office of Smart & Biggar successfully represented the International Trademark Association as an intervener in this proceeding.

In October 2012, several retailers (Best Buy, Costco, Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Walmart, Toy 'R' Us and Curves) filed a motion for declaratory judgment in the Quebec Superior Court seeking to have the Court confirm that the display of a registered trademark alone on a public sign, such as a storefront, in a language other than French (e.g. English) was in compliance with the French Charter.

The French Charter requires public signs, posters and commercial advertising to be in French, but also permits the use of French together with another language provided that the French is markedly predominant. An exception to the foregoing general rules also allows "recognized trademarks" within the meaning of the Trademarks Act to appear exclusively in a language other than French.

In 2010, however, the Office québécois de la langue française (the "OQLF"), the governmental body responsible for enforcing the provisions of the French Charter, changed its interpretation of the French Charter. Under the new interpretation, any business name appearing on a public sign in Quebec was considered use of a trade name (rather than a trademark) and accordingly, was subject to the French Charter requirements for trade names, namely, that it had to be translated to French or combined with French generic language. Practically speaking, such an interpretation would require a retailer such as Best Buy to either display a French translation of "Best Buy" on its storefront or precede it with French generic text such as "Boutique éléctronique".

As previously reported in our April 10, 2014 IP Update, the Quebec Superior Court rejected all the arguments put forward by the Attorney General holding that the French Charter and its regulations could hardly be clearer and that there was no doubt as to its proper interpretation. The Attorney General alleged several grounds of appeal, which essentially reiterated the position that names displayed on retailers' storefronts are in fact trade names, rather than trademarks in the strict sense, and should therefore respect the French Charter requirements for trade names.

In its decision, the Quebec Court of Appeal acknowledged that the promotion and protection of the French language in Quebec is a recognized imperative and that the use of the French language in public is one of the cornerstones of such a policy. However, with respect to public signs, posters and commercial advertising, the Court held that the French Charter already protects the French language in these media and that the respondents are in compliance with the French Charter.

The Court of Appeal clarified that the general rules for public signs (i.e., must be in French or French must be markedly predominant) are clear and that the exception for "recognized trademarks" is not limited to any specific type of public sign and thus addresses all types of signs, including signage on storefronts. Furthermore, the Court also noted that the Attorney General did not take into account that the French Charter expressly addresses the issue of trade names displayed on public signs, posters and commercial advertising. The Court of Appeal recognized that the French Charter and its regulations must be given a broad and generous interpretation in order to reach their objectives, and that the principles affirmed by the French Charter and clarified by the regulations must not be neutralised by way of exceptions.  While such exceptions are to be interpreted narrowly, the Court of Appeal found that the exceptions reflect a balance created by the legislator and must be given their proper meaning. Moreover, the Court of Appeal indicated that although the French Charter does not preclude an interpretation differing from the one previously taken by the OQLF for more than fifteen years, the interpretation sought by the Attorney General does not in fact reflect the intent of the French Charter and its regulations.

The Attorney General has until June 26, 2015 to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. In this regard, it will be interesting to see whether it decides to take this matter up to Canada's highest court and/or perhaps defer to the legislator to decide if legislative changes are needed to protect Quebec's French language landscape against trademarks displayed in other languages. For the time being though, this decision provides some reassurance to retailers and trademark owners doing business in Quebec.

For further information, please contact a member of our firm's Trademarks group.

The preceding is intended as a timely update on Canadian intellectual property and technology law. The content is informational only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. To obtain such advice, please communicate with our offices directly.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Tomek Nishijima
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.