In recent years, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) and the Quebec government have tried to force owners of non-French trademarks to add descriptive language in French to their public signs displaying non-French trademarks, even though the regulations under the Charter of the French Language provide an exception for recognised trademarks in a language other than French.(1)

Such attempts resulted in some business owners launching a declaratory judgment action. A subsequent Quebec Superior Court decision rejected the OQLF arguments and reiterated the right of trademark owners to display non-French recognised trademarks on public signs.(2) This decision was affirmed by the Quebec Court of Appeal.(3)

On May 4 2016, the Quebec minister of culture and communications proposed amendments to the regulations under the charter to ensure the presence of French language on the fronts of businesses that display non-French trademarks on public signs, while purporting to respect the trademark exception.

The current proposal aims to ensure a sufficient presence of French when a non-French trademark is displayed outside business premises. This presence of the French language would be ensured by displaying:

  • a generic term or a description of the products or services; or
  • a slogan or any other indication in French informing consumers and passers-by of the products or services offered.

An appropriate display would give a permanent visibility to French, be similar to that of the non-French trademark displayed and be legible together with the non-French trademark, without necessarily being at the same place or of the same size. The proposal provides that existing signs and posters on the date of the coming into force will have to comply within three years.

For further information on this topic please contact Christian Bolduc at Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh by telephone (+1 514 954 1500) or email ([email protected]). The Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh website can be accessed at


(1) See Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh IP Update, February 8 2012.

(2) See Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh IP Update, April 10 2014.

(3) See Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh IP Update, May 5 2015.