In recent years, the Office québécois de la langue française (“OQLF”) and the Quebec Government have tried to force owners of non-French trademarks to add descriptive language in French to their public signs displaying non-French trademarks, even though the regulations under the Charter of the French language (“Charter”) provide an exception for recognized trademarks in a language other than French (as reported in our February 8, 2012 IP Update). Such attempts resulted in some store owners launching a Declaratory Judgment Action which resulted in a Quebec Superior Court decision rejecting the OQLF arguments and reiterating the right of trademark owners to display non-French recognized trademarks on public signs (as reported in our April 10, 2014 IP Update). This decision was affirmed by the Quebec Court of Appeal (as reported in our May 5, 2015 IP Update).
On May 4, 2016, the Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications proposed amendments to the regulations under the Charter to ensure the presence of French language on the storefront of businesses that display non-French trademarks on public signs, while purporting to respect the trademark exception.
The current proposal aims at ensuring a sufficient presence of French when a non-French trademark is displayed outside business premises. This presence of the French language would be ensured by displaying a generic term or a description of the products or services, a slogan or any other indication in French informing consumers and passersby of the products or services offered. An appropriate display would give a permanent visibility to French, similar to that of the non-French trademark displayed and also be legible together with the non-French trademark displayed, without necessarily being at the same place or of the same size as the non-French trademark. The proposal provides that existing signs and posters on the date of the coming into force will have to comply within 3 years.