Québec’s New Signage Laws Comes Into Force on November 24, 2016

Last May we wrote about upcoming amendments to the Charter of the French Language regarding signage in French and trademarks. The amendments received public consultations from May 4 to June 18, 2016. On November 9, 2016, final amendments to the Charter under Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business and the Regulation defining the scope of the expression “markedly predominant” for the purposes of Charter of the French language were published and registered in the Gazette officielle du Québec.

As a result, all new outdoor signage installed after November 24, 2016, will need to comply with the new rules. Existing businesses and franchises will have a three-year grace period to comply. Moreover, by November 24, 2019 all outdoor signage in Québec must comply with the new signage laws.

You can read about the new rules in our previous article. To summarize, businesses operating in Québec are required to add French words to their non-French trademarks on outdoor signage. This can be done by adding a generic term or description of the business’ products/services or a slogan. The French words do not have to be bigger than the non-French trademark name. However, they must be integrated into the existing sign. They must also be readable in the same field of vision as the trade-mark and always well-lit if this is also the case for the trade-mark.

For example, Second Cup voluntarily added a French description to their trademark “Les Cafés Second Cup”.

The rule doesn’t include businesses with proper names or names of places, such as Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s.

The Regulation is applicable to public signage:

  • Displayed outside a building or premises located in a shopping center or in a commercial area;
  • Located inside a building or premises if it is intended to be seen from the outside; and
  • Located on an independent structure, including a totem-style structure.

The goal is to have a “sufficient French presence” at every business in Quebec without altering registered trademark names in another language, such as English. Companies like Walmart welcomed the regulation, saying it “gives our companies the flexibility to communicate in French while keeping the integrity of our brand. (statement of regional president Xavier Piesvaux to the CBC)”

The Office québecois de la langue française (OQLF) has been given the mandate to assist businesses in complying with the new regulations. Two illustrated guides (in French only) have been produced and will be distributed to all businesses in Quebec. One relates to trademarks on signage, and the other on general linguistic obligations of businesses.

Businesses that do not follow the new rules can be fined up to $20,000.

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