Québec’s Charter of the French Language has been amended by Bill 96: Have you registered your trademarks in Canada yet?
On June 1, 2022, Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec (“Bill 96”) received royal assent and modified the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”). Some of the most significant amendments introduced by Bill 96 are the new restrictions on the use of English and other non-French trademarks in signs, posters, labels, packaging and commercial advertising. For more information about the key dates when the amendments of Bill 96 come into force, see our recent article here.
Before the adoption of Bill 96, “recognized” trademarks under Canadian legislation (i.e. common law trademarks, registered trademarks, and trademarks for which registration is pending) could appear on public signs, posters and in commercial advertising in a language other than French, and only a “sufficient presence” of French was required. This would typically be done by including a French descriptor to accompany the name of the storefront that is a recognized trademark.
However, as of June 1, 2025, the following restrictions will apply to English and other non-French trademarks used in Québec:
- Non-French marks must be registered: Only trademarks that have been registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office in a language other than French may appear on signs, posters and commercial advertising, but only if no corresponding French trademark (whether registered or pending) exists on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s register. Bill 96 does not refer to “registered French trademarks”, but instead states that “a trademark may be drawn up, even partially, only in a language other than French, provided the trademark is registered within the meaning of the Trademarks Act […]and no corresponding French version appears in the register kept according to that Act” [Emphasis added]. This suggests that the existence of an application to register a French trademark would preclude a business from using its registered non-French trademark in their signs, posters and commercial advertising in Québec.
- French generic term is also required: If a non-French trademark is displayed on a public sign or poster, on a package or label, or in commercial advertising, there must also be a “markedly predominant” French generic term or description of the products or services concerned, a slogan, or another term or indication providing information about the products or services to consumers. In order to be “markedly predominant”, the French text (i.e. both space and characters) must be twice as large as the text in the other language and overall carry more of a visual impact than the other language.
- French must be markedly predominant: Additionally, if a public sign or poster visible from outside a premises bears the name of an enterprise that includes an expression in another language (including a registered trademark), the sign or poster must now include a French generic term or description that is markedly predominant.
Regardless of the law, there can be cultural benefits to using French trademarks in Québec. Accordingly, businesses may wish to consider adopting and registering French versions of their trademarks in Canada.
On the other hand, businesses that wish to continue using trademarks only in English or in any language other than French on public signs, products, labels or packaging, and in their commercial advertising in Québec must register those trademarks with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office by June 1, 2025. There is currently a significant backlog in processing Canadian trademark applications (with delays up to three years), so businesses should consider registering their non-French trademarks in Canada as soon as possible. In some cases these applications can be expedited, as explained in our earlier article here.
Businesses may continue to use their unregistered English or other non-French trademarks until June 1, 2025. Thereafter, businesses that continue to use unregistered non-French trademarks in Québec expose themselves to sanctions by the Office québécois de la langue française and fines ranging between $700-$7,000 for individuals and between $3,000-$30,000 for legal entities. Fines for a second offence are doubled and fines for subsequent offences are tripled. Significantly, each day of non-compliance is considered to be a separate offence.
We therefore strongly recommend that businesses with operations in Québec review their signs, posters, labels, packaging and commercial advertising now and consider registering their non-French trademarks to ensure that they are compliant with these new requirements before the June 1, 2025 deadline.
For more information about French language requirements in Québec or trademark registrations, please contact one of our DLA Piper (Canada) LLP lawyers at the Montreal office or in our Intellectual Property and Technology Group.
This article provides only general information about legal issues and developments, and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Please see our disclaimer for more details.