Is the Sign Outside Your Quebec Business an English-Only Trademark? Time to Add Some French

November 15, 2016

Previously-announced amendments to the regulations  under the  Charter of the French Language (the Charter) regarding exterior signs and posters have been adopted (Amended Regulations)  and are coming into force on November 24, 2016 (in the same form as discussed in our previous article). The Amended Regulations are intended to ensure the presence of French on or near exterior commercial signs and posters that display trademarks exclusively in a language other than French. The Office québécois de la langue française (the OQLF), the body that administers the Charter, has provided guidance on the implementation of the requirements of the new regulations through two new publications: Affichage des marques de commerce and Le français, langue du travail, du commerce et des affaires au Québec.

The Amended Regulations permit businesses to maintain the integrity of their non-French-only trademarks while requiring a "sufficient presence of French" on the sign/poster or nearby.  The main requirements of the Amended Regulations, as discussed in more detail our previous article, are as follows:

  • No requirement that non-French trademarks be translated into French or otherwise be modified to include a French-language generic identifier.
     
  • Types of signs: Requirements apply, subject to limited exceptions, to signs/posters with non-French trademarks that are:
    • attached to the outside of a building (including the roof),
    • outside of premises (including non-seasonal kiosks and sales counters) that are inside a mall or other property,
    • inside a building if intended to be seen from outside, or
    • on totems or other independent structures near a building if there is no other outside sign or poster containing the non-French trademark.
  • Sufficient presence of French:  This requires (i) the presence of French that is (ii) permanently visible and legible 

    The first criterion may be satisfied by:
    • a French generic term or a description of the products or services concerned;
    • a French slogan; or
    • other information in French about the products or services offered to consumers.
      The second criterion requires that the French portion be:
    • permanent in terms of the material used and manner in which it is attached (unless the permanence of the French portion can be guaranteed otherwise);
    • visible in a manner similar to that of the non-French trademark;
    • legible in the same visual field as that of the non-French trademark; and
    • lighted, when the non-French trademark is lighted;  

The French portion does not need to be "markedly predominant" compared to the non-French trademark, or even the same size as the non-French trademark.  In contrast, with respect to all signs (both exterior and interior) other than the display of the non-French trademark, the general Charter rule continues to apply, requiring that, subject to certain exceptions, the French version of any signage be “markedly predominant” over the non-French version.

Compliance deadlines:

  • Existing signs or posters: Businesses will have until November 24, 2019 to bring them into compliance.
  • New signs and replacement signs installed on or after November 24, 2016: Immediate compliance is required, subject to limited exceptions, such as for signs or posters used elsewhere in Quebec as part of a franchise system.

The possible sanctions for contravention are fines for first offences ranging from $1,500 to $20,000; and/or a court order to remove or destroy the non-compliant sign or poster. As we noted in previous article, there is some room for interpretation with respect to the “sufficiency” requirement. Our experienced team can help you navigate this and other issues your business may face under the Charter.

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