QUEBEC COURT CONFIRMS FRENCH LANGUAGE WATCHDOG CANNOT BITE ENGLISH TRADEMARKS
By Scott Miller, April 10, 2014
On April 9, 2014, the Superior Court in Quebec in Best Buy Stores Ltd. et al v. Quebec (Attorney General) (2014) QCCS 1427, confirmed that the Quebec language watchdog, the Office Québécois de la langue française (OQFL) attempt to cause retailers to modify their brand names to include French signage was contrary to the existing language laws of Quebec.
This case is a huge victory for all businesses that wish to maintain brand recognition by using English trademarks in Quebec (ie. Best Buy, The Gap, Costco, Toys R Us, Wal-mart) and not be forced to translate them into French.
Section 58 of the Charter of the French Language (French Charter), reads, "public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French". However, there are exceptions in the French Charter Regulations (sections 7(4) and 25(4)) which permit English only packaging and signage for "a recognized trade mark within the meaning of the Trade Marks Act, unless a French version has been registered".
Justice Michel Yergeau refused the OQFL argument that retailers should use French signage because section 63 of the French Charter reads, "The name of an enterprise must be in French". The Court was not persuaded by political arguments and recognized that for the last 37 years the French Charter has kept a balance of encouraging French language rights with the need to encourage multinational companies to carry on business in Quebec. Simply put, the use of the signage in issue was recognized as trademarks and not as business (trade) names.
This case may be appealed but the political tide is changing in Quebec. The minority Parti Québécois government elected in September 2012 was defeated in a landslide election on April 7, 2014 with a new majority Liberal Government being put in place. The likelihood of the French language being used to divide the people of Quebec over the next 4 years is doubtful.
The Federal Trade-Marks Act 'recognizes' both common law (unregistered) and registered trademarks. Nonetheless, it still remains an open question whether the OQFL will recognize unregistered trademarks or argue such marks are actually trade names not subject to the English use exception. As a precautionary measure, it may still be advisable to file for English trademarks to avoid the OQFL. If threatened about the legitimacy of whether an English word is a recognized trademark, it is answerable by noting that the English word is the subject of a pending trademark application.
For more information please contact Scott Miller or Jahangir Valiani.
Scott Miller, Partner