On May 19 the Quebec Court of Appeal provided reasons for its April 29 ruling, issued verbally at the hearing, which confirmed that the use of English-language trademarks on public signs and advertising need not be accompanied by the use of a French language descriptive term. The Court of Appeal thus upheld a lower court ruling in a much-publicized case involving major retailers.

At issue was whether English-language trademarks could be used alone on outdoor store signage, as contended by the retailers, or whether such use had to be in conjunction with French-language descriptors of the nature of the business, as urged by the watchdog agency tasked with enforcing Quebec's language legislation.

The Court of Appeal's ruling turns strictly on the construction of Quebec's Charter of the French Language, which imposes the predominant use of the French language in public signs and advertising subject to certain exceptions. A key exception allows the use of a trademark in a language other than French (usually English), provided that the trademark is a "recognized" mark within the meaning of the Federal Trade Marks Act, unless a French version has been registered. There was no question in this case that the trademarks at issue were covered by this exception. Quebec's Attorney General had nonetheless argued that because these trademarks were included in the business names of the defendant retailers, the rules relating to business names, which do require the addition of a French language descriptive term, should be applied concurrently. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the rules regarding business names did not apply to public signage and advertising and could not indirectly override the exception regarding trademarks which clearly allowed use wholly in a language other than French.

The Court of Appeal decision has already made waves, with the provincial government being pressured to amend the Charter of the French Language. It remains to be seen whether the Quebec provincial legislature has the constitutional authority to do so, a question which was not addressed by the Court of Appeal. As ever, the intricacies of legislation promoting the use of French in Quebec should be on the radar of trademark owners.

The reasons of the Quebec Court of Appeal can be found here : http://www.canlii.org/fr/qc/qcca/doc/2015/2015qcca747/2015qcca747.html