On May 4, 2016, the Quebec government followed through on its
plan to amend the Charter of the French Language (the
"Charter"), publishing draft regulations which
require the sufficient presence of French when a trademark in a
language other than French is displayed on signage or posters
outside a place of business.
Just over a year ago, the Quebec Court of Appeal unanimously
upheld the Superior Court decision that the Charter did
not require a descriptive French term to be added to non-French
trademarks on signage. The Quebec Government did not seek a further
appeal but announced plans to amend the Charter, requiring
Quebec businesses to add French to their outdoor signage, without
altering registered trademarks. The Charter is
intended to promote and protect the French language in Quebec and
is administered by the Office québécois de la langue
The new draft regulations require Quebec businesses that display
a trademark only in a language other than French on signs or
posters either outside their place of business, or that are
intended to be seen from outside their place of business, to ensure
a sufficient presence of French on the site. Signs or posters
outside premises situated in a mall or a shopping centre are
included in this requirement. Compliance with the requirement can
be accomplished through the presence of French on a sign or poster
a generic term or description of the products or services
offered by the business;
a slogan; or
any other term or indication, preferably pertaining to the
products or services to the benefit of consumers or persons
frequenting the site.
Signs on an independent structure such as a totem or post near a
place of business are only caught if there is no other outside sign
or poster on which the trademark appears.
The "sufficient presence of French" requirement means
that the French generic terms, slogans or other descriptions
relating to the products or services on the signs or posters
be permanently visible, similar to that of the trademark
be legible in the same visual field as that of the non-French
trademark on signs or posters.
The business must ensure permanent visibility of the French
content or have a system in place to guarantee its presence or
replacement if the sign is of a precarious nature.
The government has indicated that the draft regulations follow a
consultation process involving various groups, including businesses
operating in Quebec, and that the changes will apply to more than
1,800 businesses province-wide.
The next step is a 45-day public consultation process, during
which written comments can be submitted to the government. The
regulations will then be amended if necessary and the Quebec
government will decide on whether the changes to the draft
regulations are acceptable. Once the regulations are finalized
and published in the Gazette officielle du Québec, they
will come into force fifteen days after publication. Although the
changes are expected to come into force this year, there will be a
three-year grace period "for signs or posters existing at the
time the new regulations come into force and in a situation where
the same trademark is already used on signs or posters elsewhere in
Quebec as part of a franchise system or otherwise." The new
regulations will apply as of the date they come into force with
respect to the installation of new trademark signs or posters and
the replacement of existing signs or posters.
Given the OQLF's increased budget this year and the
potential fines of $1,500 to $20,000 for non-compliance with the
Charter, businesses in Quebec should expect continued
enforcement of the provisions relating to signage and should take
steps to comply. Trademark owners should also consult trademark
counsel regarding whether the addition of the French words affect
their rights in registered marks and / or require the filing of
additional trademark applications.
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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