Doing business in Quebec poses additional challenges to your company’s marketing efforts. Operating in Quebec obliges you to comply with the Quebec Charter of the French language, which dictates the use of the French language in commerce and business. Companies that violate these requirements risk investigation by the Office québécois de la langue française (the "OLF"). The OLF can refer non-complying businesses to the Attorney General of Quebec for prosecution in court, where judges may impose fines and the resulting notoriety can find consumer disfavour.
However, the Regulations respecting the Language of Commerce and Business contain some important exceptions to these French language requirements. For example, on products and packaging, in directions for use and warranties, in catalogues and brochures, on public signs and in commercial advertising, a "recognized" trade-mark may appear exclusively in English. This exception only applies if the French version of that "recognized" trade-mark has not been registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office ("CIPO").
In the past, the word "recognized" in the exception included both English trade-marks that were registered with CIPO and those that were not registered. To be considered "recognized", unregistered English trade-marks generally had to be used in commerce, marked as TM or MC, and be somewhat known - simply doing business under a business name might in some cases be enough. The determination was subjective, and depended upon the opinion of the OLF investigator or a judge.
However, a recent directive from the OLF states that, in an effort to make the determination more "objective", the OLF will now interpret "recognized" trade-marks as meaning only those English trade-marks which are registered with CIPO.
In order to benefit from the stated exception and use English trade marks in the Province without becoming subject to investigation by the Office, companies operating in Quebec should therefore review their IP portfolios and ensure that their most important English business names, brand names or slogans are registered with CIPO as trade-marks, especially if they will be used in Quebec on commercial signs and advertising.