The Quebec Superior Court has decided, in a long-awaited judgment, that businesses in Quebec may continue to display their trademarks on public signs outside their premises solely in a language other than French if no French version of the trademark has been registered.1
The Charter of the French Language requires that advertising generally be in French. However, there is an exception in the law for trademarks if no French version of the mark has been registered.
In recent years, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has taken the position that this trademark exception does not allow trademarks to be displayed outside a business, or in most other places, unless it is accompanied by a generic term such as “magasin,” or “boutique” or “café.” The OQLF has contended that a trademark displayed on business premises is used as a business name and should therefore comply with the rule governing names. That rule requires that a French generic term be added to any expression in another language.
Seven retailers and one franchiser made a motion to the Superior Court asking the court to decide whether the trademark exception allows the display of their trademarks unaccompanied by a French descriptor. The court agreed with the businesses and rejected the OQLF’s assimilation of trademarks to business names. The judgment was rendered on April 9, 2014. The Attorney General has 30 days to file an appeal.