As reported yesterday, the Québec Minister of
Culture and Communications and Minister Responsible for the
Protection and Promotion of the French Language,
Hélène David, announced that
the Québec government would be publishing its
proposed amendments to the French language regulations today, May
4, 2016, in an effort to ensure the visibility of the French
language throughout the province.
The Draft Regulations ("Regulations") will affect all
companies with an establishment in Québec who display a
non-French trademark in the absence of a French generic term,
slogan or description outside their premises. Roof-top signs;
storefront signage; signage located inside a building, a mall or a
shopping center, whether underground or aboveground; signs or
posters inside a building intended to be seen from outside; and
signs appearing on a terminal or other independent structure will
all be subject to the Regulations, except for certain exceptions.
Retailers, hotels, restaurants, bars, financial institutions,
boutiques, shopping malls, professional firms, health clubs and all
other buildings carrying on a commercial activity appear to be
subject to the new Regulations.
The Regulations provide that where a non-French trademark is
displayed outside a building, a "sufficient presence of
French" must also be ensured, in accordance with the
Regulations. The presence of the French language can be ensured by
one of three ways:
A French generic term or description
of the products and/or services concerned;
A French slogan; or
Any other term or indication,
although preference should be given to the display of information
pertaining to the products and/or services to the benefit of
consumers or persons frequenting the site.
The Regulations further require the French generic terms, slogan
or other description to be permanently visible and shown in the
same visual field as that of the sign or poster bearing the
By way of example, the Regulations provide that the French sign
will be considered to be compliant vis-à-vis the English
trademark where it is designed, illuminated and situated so as to
be easily legible, together and at all times when the non-French
trademark is legible – without both signs or posters
necessarily being present within the same space, in equal numbers,
of the same materials or of the same size/dimension. As such, it
appears that the concept of a "markedly predominant"
presence of French will not be required.
Whether or not the French sign will meet the
"legibility" requirement will be assessed based on the
type of sign or poster. For trademarks posted outside a building
situated on a street, the legibility of the French sign will be
evaluated from the sidewalk along the façade on which the
trademark appears. For trademarks visible from a highway, the
legibility of the French sign will be assessed from the highway.
The addition of French business hours, telephone numbers or
addresses, or a French sign that requires the viewer to be within a
less than 1-meter radius of the sign to be legible, will not meet
the "sufficient presence of French" requirement.
A few notable exceptions to these new rules include non-French
trademarks appearing on temporary or seasonal stands or kiosks,
totem-type structures on which two (2) or more trademarks appear,
and totem-type and other independent structures where the
non-French trademark also appears on a sign outside a building but
in close proximity to it.
Companies with existing signs and posters will be given a 3-year
grace period within which to make the necessary changes to their
The Minister indicated during her press conference of May 3,
2016, that the proposed amendments are the result of consultations,
including consultations with businesses operating in Québec.
However, the Regulations may still be subject to amendments as a
45-day public consultation period is underway, during which the
public may submit written comments to the Minister. Once a final
version of the Regulations is published, it should come into force
15 days following its publication.
While the government has assured that the proposed regulations
will only have a "moderate" impact on Québec
companies and that the various avenues for compliance will
"preserve the integrity of trademarks," the addition of a
French generic or descriptive term or slogan may constitute an
alteration to a registered trademark. Consideration should be given
as to whether such additions require further trademark protection.
Your trademark counsel may provide further guidance on the
recommended next steps. We note that certain retailers who have
integrated a French generic or descriptive term to their non-French
trademark have already filed applications for registration of their
A copy of the Draft Regulations may be found here and here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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