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

On January 10, 2024, the Government of Québec published a Draft Regulation under the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”), which clarifies certain changes to signage exceptions involving trademarks in languages other than French. This article seeks to clarify certain issues raised in two of our previous articles on this topic: “Trademark owners: Get ready for the changes to the Charter of the French language” and “The Charter of the French Language and commercial display of your trademarks: major changes ahead”.

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 drastically tightened starting June 1, 2025, when the legislative amendments are set to come into effect.

Since the effective date is just over a year away, the tabling of the Draft Regulation is timely given the various uncertainties looming over companies doing business in Québec.

 

Summary of the new requirements

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

 

1. Inscriptions on products

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

a. You must have filed a trademark application with the Registrar of Trademarks if you wish to avoid including a French-language version of your trademark on every inscription on a product, its container or wrapping, or on a document or object supplied with it, including directions for use and warranty certificates.

b. If generic or product descriptions are included in the trademark, they must be permanently displayed in French on the product. The Draft Regulation states as follows:

i. “a description refers to one or more words describing the characteristics of a product;

ii. a generic term refers to one or more words describing the nature of a product.”1

 

2. Outdoor commercial signage

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

a. You must have filed a trademark application with the Registrar of Trademarks if you wish to avoid including a French-language version of the trademark on your signage.

b. You must also include a descriptive or generic term in French (e.g. café, magasin, outils, logiciels, etc.) that is at least twice the size of the non-French trademark and appears in the same visual field.

 

French descriptive terms in signage

The Charter amendments concerning outdoor commercial signage tighten the requirement under which descriptive or generic terms 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.

What does that mean for your company? In the future, your trademark in a language other than French appearing on your commercial signage will have to be much less visually prominent than the French descriptive term(s) alongside it.

It had been assumed that, effective June 1, 2025, the new requirement would stipulate that the accompanying descriptive or generic term in French would have to be twice as large as the trademark. The Draft Regulation confirmed that assumption. The Draft Regulation also stipulates that the permanent visibility of the French text accompanying the trademark must be at least equivalent to that of the trademark.2

It is clear that Québec’s business landscape will be radically transformed as of June 1, 2025, as shown in a sample sign provided by the Government (reproduced below).

 

Trademark status

In addition, the Charter states that effective June 1, 2025, the exception will only apply to a “recognized trademark within the meaning of the Trademarks Act”.3 Under the Trademarks Act, a “recognized trademark” is a registered trademark. Compliance with this requirement, however, will prove 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 face penalties in this regard, with no workarounds available.

Fortunately, the Draft Regulation specifies that a “registered trademark” within the meaning of the Charter includes a “trademark in respect of which an application for registration is pending.”4 Therefore, as of June 1, 2025, it will be sufficient to have a pending trademark application with the Registrar of Trademarks in order to comply with this new requirement.

In its current form, this clarification applies only to s. 51.1 of the Charter, i.e. inscriptions on products sold in Québec, and not to s. 58.1, which covers outdoor commercial signage. In our view, this is in all likelihood an omission. We expect a correction to be issued extending this provision to include commercial signage, thus eliminating an obvious inconsistency.

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1 S. 27.3, Draft Regulation, Gazette, Vol. 156, No. 2, January 10, 2024, page 166. Language of commerce and business.
2 S. 27.9, Draft Regulation, Gazette, Vol. 156, No. 2, January 10, 2024, page 167. Language of commerce and business.
3 Charter of the French language, CQLR c. C-11, ss. 51.1 and 58.1.
4 S. 27.4, Draft Regulation, Gazette, Vol. 156, No. 2, January 10, 2024, page 166. Language of commerce and business.

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