Trademark owners: Get ready for the changes to the Charter of the French language – June 2024 update

July 8th, 2024

On June 26, 2024, the Government of Québec published the final version of the Regulation to amend mainly the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business (the “Regulation”), which clarifies certain changes to signage exceptions involving trademarks in languages other than French under the Charter of the French language (the “Charter”).

As the Regulation amends certain provisions of the draft Regulation published in January, we have taken the opportunity to update our article published in March on the draft Regulation, “Trademark owners: Get ready for the changes to the Charter of the French language – update. With the publication of the Regulation, the Government of Québec also provided some clarification on how to interpret the legislative changes, which we discuss below.

First and foremost, it bears repeating that the Charter requires all inscriptions on a product or commercial sign in Québec to be in French, with certain exceptions, including for trademarks. Those requirements, however, will be tightened starting June 1, 2025, when the legislative amendments are set to come into effect.

1. Summary of the new requirements

Here are the broad outlines of the new requirements scheduled to take effect on June 1, 2025.

a. Inscriptions on products

If your trademarks appear on your products or any related materials, be aware that starting June 1, 2025:

  • If generic or product descriptions are included in the trademark, they must be permanently displayed in French on the product.

b. Public commercial signs and posters

If your business displays a trademark in a language other than French that is (1) visible from outside the premises, including on a building or inside a shopping centre; (2) on a bollard or other independent structure, be aware that effective June 1, 2025:

  • the space allotted to the French text must be at least twice as large as the space allotted to the text in another language within the same visual field.

2. French descriptive terms on signs and posters

The Charter amendments concerning public commercial signs and posters tighten the requirement that descriptive or generic terms in French or other text in French must accompany trademarks in another language. The current requirement aimed at ensuring a “sufficient presence of French” will be replaced by an enhanced provision designed to ensure the “marked predominance” of French.

Prior to the coming into effect of the new Regulation, it was sufficient for a trademark in another language to be accompanied by a description, generic or slogan in French within the same visual field, and there was no specific requirement regarding text size.

What is the impact of the new “marked predominance” criterion? In the future, your trademark in a language other than French appearing on your commercial signs and posters will have to be less visually prominent than the French descriptive elements alongside it. Much less!

When the draft Regulation was published in January, it was expected that, effective June 1, 2025, accompanying descriptive or generic text in French would have to be twice as large as the trademark.

However, the Regulation published on June 26 clarified that it is the space allotted to the French text that must be twice as large as that allotted to the text in another language—not the text itself. While the nuance is subtle, it appears that the government wants merchants to include more French text on commercial signs and posters.

As shown in the sample provided by the government when the Regulation was published, businesses will be able to comply with the new requirement by adding text in French around a trademark in another language, so long as the text is within the same visual field and the marked predominance criterion is met.

It is a safe bet that this will prove difficult to put into practice for some retailers with small storefronts. Get out your tape measures!

One thing is certain: Québec’s business landscape will be radically transformed as of June 1, 2025.

3. Trademark status

The amendments initially made to the Charter stated that effective June 1, 2025, the signs and posters exception for languages other than French would only apply to a “registered trademark within the meaning of the Trademarks Act”.1 Under the Trademarks Act, a “registered trademark” is one that appears on the register. Compliance with this requirement, however, would have proven difficult in practice given that administrative delays for registration processing are particularly lengthy at the moment, up to four years in some cases. Non-compliant businesses that have not applied to register their trademarks or that launch new trademarks could potentially have faced penalties in this regard, with no workarounds available.

The January draft Regulation specified that a “registered trademark” within the meaning of the Charter includes a “trademark in respect of which an application for registration is pending.”2 Consequently, it would have been sufficient to have filed a trademark application without yet having received approval.

But the final version of the Regulation returns to the existing requirement to have a “recognized trademark within the meaning of the Trademarks Act.” A recognized trademark may simply be one that is used without being registered or pending registration. This represents an easing of the initially announced criterion. This requirement applies to both Charter s. 51.1 regarding the exception for inscriptions on products, and s. 58.1 regarding public signs and posters.

Nevertheless, applying to register your trademark in a language other than French remains a good way to demonstrate to the Office de la langue française that you are entitled to the exception.

4. Inscriptions on products

The Regulation introduces a new requirement to include a French version of any generic term or description included in a trademark that appears in a language other than French.

In section 27.2, the Regulation clarifies that a description refers to “one or more words describing the characteristics of a product”, and a generic term to “one or more words describing the nature of a product”.

Section 27.2 goes on to provide that a description or generic term excludes the name of the enterprise and the name of the product as sold. It also excludes designations of origin and “distinctive names of a cultural nature”.

1 Charter of the French language, CQLR c C-11., ss 51.1 and 58.1.
2 S. 27.4, Draft Regulation, Gazette No. 2, January 10, 2024, page 217. Language of commerce and business.