Yesterday, the Québec Government announced that it has proposed amendments to Regulations under the Charter of the French Language to force businesses operating in Québec to add French words to their non-French trademarks on outdoor signage, such as a description of the business’ products/services or a slogan. By way of example, adding “magasin”, or “auberge”, to retail store or hotel name listings may be acceptable. Also, this requirement would apparently not apply to trademarks that are names or surnames. The Government also indicated that the added French words must be well lit at night but that they do not have to be bigger than the non-French trademark.

The proposed amendments to the regulations are what the Office québecois de la langue française had been trying to persuade business owners to do for many years, and follow a legal battle between the Québec Government and several multi-national retailers, such as Best Buy, Costco, Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us, over whether French wording must appear on signage in Quebec. The Québec Court of Appeal confirmed that the existing Charter and regulations do not require that French words be added to recognized trademarks on signage and in other public displays. Instead of a further appeal, the Government decided to move to amend the Regulations.

The proposed new Regulations will be open for public consultation for 45 days, after which time any necessary adjustments will be made and the cabinet will decide whether to accept the amendments. If so, the Regulations would come into force after publication in the Gazette officielle. The new rules would then apply immediately, but businesses will have a 3-year period to bring existing signs into conformity.

Brand owners should consider how best to comply with the new rules, if adopted, while maintaining a global branding image and address concerns that adding generic words of their trademarks may “alter” the distinctive appearance of their brands.