The Court of Appeal of Quebec reaffirmed that the Charter of
the French Language (Charter) does not require a trade-mark
used on a storefront sign to be accompanied by a generic French
term. This judgment confirms the Superior Court's decision on
April 9, 2014.
The importance of this issue is confirmed by the Court of Appeal
having heard the appeal with five (instead of the usual three)
judges. The court rendered its decision on the bench on April 27,
2015, after having heard the arguments of the Attorney General of
Quebec without needing to hear the arguments of the retailers or
This decision stems from a motion for declaratory judgment filed
by several retailers who sought guidance from the court on the
interpretation to be given to the provisions of the Charter dealing
with the language of public signs and the language of business
names. The Charter generally states that such public signs must be
in French (or in French and one or more other languages provided
that the French version is markedly prominent), but the regulations
enacted under the Charter include an exception for recognized
trade-marks, provided that no French version of the trade-mark has
Around 2010, the Office québécois de la langue
française (OQLF) started publicizing its position that such
use of a trade-mark constituted use of a business name and was
therefore required to be accompanied by a generic French term
pursuant to the provisions of the Charter dealing with business
names. The attorney general, following the position taken by the
OQLF, issued fines over the last few years against a number of
retailers in Quebec who use trade-marks on their storefront signs
in a language other than French without a generic French term.
A group of major retailers, supported by the Retail Council of
Canada and the International Trademark Association as interveners,
contested this interpretation by the OQLF. The Superior Court
disagreed with the OQLF's position and found no requirement
under the Charter to have a generic French term appear with a
trade-mark on storefront signs. This decision was confirmed by the
Court of Appeal.
The reasons for the decision were published on May 1, 2015. The
court rejected the attorney general's arguments by finding that
certain sections of the Charter and the regulations respecting the
language of commerce and business—namely subsection 58(3) and
section 68 of the Charter and subsection 25(4) of the
regulations—would be sterilized or completely ignored by the
interpretation given to subsection 25(4) and section 27 of the
regulations by the attorney general.
The Court of Appeal therefore found that the retailers'
practices with respect to signage comply with the Charter and its
regulations, which allow the use of a trade-mark in a language
other than French (provided that no French version has been
registered), including where such a trade-mark appears on a
storefront sign and whether or not this use of such a trade-mark
could be considered as use of a business name. The Court of Appeal
also mentioned that its finding is in line with the interpretation
that the OQLF had given to the legislation prior to 2010.
The attorney general has 60 days to seek leave to appeal to the
Supreme Court of Canada. It will also be interesting to see whether
the Quebec government will consider making changes to the Charter,
including requiring recognized trade-marks in a language other than
French—when used in certain public signs—to be
accompanied by a generic French term.
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