French is Required on Public Signs and Posters Displaying Non-French Trade-Marks

Changes to Quebec's signage laws announced in May recently entered into force on 24 November 2016. The amendments to the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business of the Charter of the French language (the Regulation) are published in the Gazette Officielle du Québec.

The changes will require businesses in Quebec to add French-language descriptors or slogans to storefront signage featuring non-French trade-marks. This is the latest step in the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) (Quebec's French language regulator) implementation of the requirement that French be displayed next to non-French trade-marks on signage and posters, reflecting an enforcement approach that has found the regulator at odds with courts in the province in recent years.1

Deadlines for Compliance

Any new signage or replacement signage that is installed after 24 November 2016 (the coming-into-force date) must be compliant with the new rules. For existing signage, the Regulation provides businesses with a 3-year transition period to conform to the new laws. Accordingly, all storefront signage in Quebec must be compliant by 24 November 2019.

The Quebec Charter of the French Language (Charter) and related regulations currently require that public signs and posters as well as commercial advertising in Quebec be exclusively in French or, if another language is also included, that the French version be markedly predominant. An exception under the law allows "recognized" trade-marks to appear exclusively in a language other than French, as long as no registered French version of the mark exists.

Under the new rules, also discussed in previous Client Alerts,2 businesses will no longer be allowed to display their trade-marks exclusively in a language other than French on public signage and posters – the marks will need to be accompanied by a description or slogan in French. The Regulation will require the inclusion of a "sufficient presence of French" in one of the following forms:

  • A generic term or description of the business’s products or services in French
  • A slogan in French
  • Any other term or indication in French favouring the display of information pertaining to the business’s products or services

The terms and messages must be always readable, visible, well lit and in the same field of vision as the trade-mark.

The new rules apply to trade-marks displayed on signs or posters located outside of a building or premises. This includes signs outside of premises situated in a mall or shopping centre, signs located inside a building that are intended to be seen from the outside, and certain signs appearing on a bollard, independent structure or totem-type structure.

The following signs or posters (or elements thereof) in French are not taken into account when determining whether the signage complies with the Regulation:

  • Opening hours, phone numbers and postal and electronic addresses
  • Numbers and percentages
  • Definite, indefinite and partitive articles and
  • A term that is only readable within a distance of 1 meter except if it is also the case for the trade-mark

Corporations that do not comply with the Regulation can face fines ranging between CAD1,500 to CAD20,000, which are the penalties imposed for non-compliance with the Charter.

[1] Before Quebec introduced this legislation, it commenced a province-wide campaign against retailers' storefront signage displaying trade-marks in English only (see our client alert titled “Quebec’s French Language Regulator Cracks Down on Retailers’ Storefront Signage Displaying Trade-marks in Languages other than French” (July 2012)). Several retailers then took the province to court to obtain a declaration that their signage was not contravening the current laws; the retailers succeeded both at the first instance and on appeal (see our client alerts titled “Public Display of Non-French Trade-marks are Allowed in Quebec” (April 2014) and "Businesses Displaying Non-French Trade-marks on Commercial Signage do not Contravene Quebec's Language Laws, says the Quebec Court of Appeal" (May 2015)).

[2] Baker & McKenzie LLP previously discussed the then-proposed amendments in client alerts titled “Quebec Intends to Change Laws to Require French on Exterior Signs Displaying Non-French Trademarks” (July 2015) and "Proposed Regulatory Amendments in Quebec Call for French-Language Content on Public Signs and Posters Displaying Non-French Trade-Marks" (May 2016).