Amendment to the Charter of the French Language: Signage in French and Trademarks

The Charter of the French Language currently allows for the exclusive use of trademarks in languages other than French unless a French version of the trademark has been registered. Seeing an increase in the presence of trademarks in a language other than French displayed on outdoor signage all over the province, the Québec Minister of Culture and Communications and Minister Responsible for the Protection and Promotion of the French Language, Hélène David, tabled proposed amendments to regulations under the Charter of the French Language (Loi 101). The amendments are to ensure a greater visibility of French in the display of outdoor signages of retail, hospitality and restaurant industries among others.

A trademark may consist of a word or combination of words, sounds or designs used to distinguish the products or services of a person or organization from those that others offer on the market. (Source: trademarks Guide published by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO))

The aim of the amendments is to uphold Québec’s French culture and identity throughout the province by insisting that all companies add a generic French term, descriptive, slogan or information about the business’s products and services to their non-French outdoor signage. As a result, companies like Best Buy, Walmart, Costco, Canadian Tire and Home Depot among others will no longer be able to display their trademarks only in English (see more on this issue in a previous post here).

Two proposed regulations were published in the Gazette officielle du Québec on May 4, 2016, which includes several methods for businesses to comply with the proposed changes while preserving the integrity of their brand and trademarks and a timeline to comply. The public and interested stakeholders are invited to participate in the consultation on the regulatory amendments until June 18, 2016. The Minister indicated during a press conference on May 3, 2016, that the proposed amendments are the result of consultations, including consultations with businesses operating in Quebec.

Once in force, the Quebec Office of the French Language (OLF) will provide companies established in Quebec with documents reminding them of their obligations, including rules for the application of the Regulation.

“With this proposal, every person, whether being driven on a highway or walking on a sidewalk in an industrial area or a commercial parking, will recognize that they are in Quebec because they will see the display of messages in French signage. The face of French Quebec will be everywhere! “stated Minister David (translated from French.)

The two regulations being amended titled, Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business, and Regulation defining the scope of the expression “markedly predominant” for the purposes of Charter of the French language applies to all companies doing business in Quebec and includes the following requirements.

Details on the Regulatory amendments

  1. When a trademark is displayed only in a language other than French outside of a building, a sufficient presence of the French version of the displayed trademark must be found in the same area in accordance with the Regulations, which includes:
    • A French generic term or description of the products and/or services concerned;
    • A slogan in the French;
    • Alternatively, any other term or indication that provides information in French on the products and/or services given to the consumers or persons frequenting the premises or the business (excluding hours of operation and addresses). How this should properly be done is explained visually on the Quebec government website here.
  2. The above requirements are for signage on the exterior of a building including the roof, on a facade located inside a building or a shopping center, inside a room or a building that is intended to be seen from outside (e.g., display found in a window). It also includes a terminal or any other independent structures, unless the trademark is already shown in either of the situations mentioned above, or if more than two marks are affixed to the structure. Moreover, exceptions include non-French trademarks appearing on temporary or seasonal stands or kiosks, totem-type structures on which two 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 near it.
  3. The display in French must have the following characteristics, can be read in the same field as that of the trademark and be present at all times without necessarily be predominant in relation to the brand and be lit at any time if the English brand is. However, the company will not be required to use the same means of illumination, it may, for example, opt for a more economical solution.
  4. Any businesses with names or family names will not have to change their signs (e.g., Tim Hortons or McDonald’s).
  5. If a company displays an outdoor sign or message in French and English, the French message or sign must be predominant. The rules laid down by the regulation do not require a clear predominance or even an equal visual effect with respect to the trademark.

Timeline for compliance and enforcement

Once the Regulations receive final publication in part 2, of the Gazette officielle du Québec, it will come into force 15 days following its publication.

Existing businesses have three years to comply with the new regulations once they are adopted. Otherwise, they face fines ranging from $1,500 to $20,000. The government’s impact statement stated that over 1,800 companies could be affected and the changes will cost businesses them a total of $6.5 million.

New businesses will have to comply with the regulation immediately.

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