Quebec Passes French Language Law Affecting Trademark Use and Product Packaging Requirements

On June 1, 2022, the National Assembly of Quebec assented to a law that will require non-French language trademarks that are not registered in Canada to be translated into French when used in the province of Quebec. Even for marks in languages ​​other than French that are registered in Canada, any descriptive or generic term of these marks must be translated into French on the products. Additionally, the new law will impact English language signage and advertisements. These Bill 96 requirements will come into effect on June 1, 2025.

The law, Bill 96, amends the “Charter of the French Language”, a Quebec provincial law establishing French as the official language of government in Quebec and enacting fundamental rights of the French language in Quebec. Among the fundamental language rights under the Charter is the right of consumers to be informed and served in French. Accordingly, various language requirements apply to trademarks and product labels and packaging, requiring that French be displayed at least as prominently as the other languages ​​appearing on these documents, and clearly predominant on signage and advertising. commercial. Bill 96 institutes stricter French language mandates, subject to specified exceptions.

Although legal challenges to Bill 96 are expected, the eventual implementation of Bill 96 would impose additional requirements regarding trademarks, product packaging, and store signage. Currently, an English trademark can be displayed without a French translation, provided that no registered French version of the mark exists. Bill 96, however, requires English common law marks to be translated into French. In other words, to benefit from a French language exemption, an English mark must be registered in Canada. Additionally, if a registered English mark contains generic or descriptive terms, a French translation of those terms must appear on the product or on something permanently attached to it.

Bill 96 also establishes more onerous French language requirements for public signage and advertising. Although the current Charter allows English marks to appear on advertising and commercial signs visible from outside the premises if (1) a French registration does not exist and (2) a “sufficient presence” of French text appears on the rest of the advertising or signage, Bill 96 reinforces the standard by requiring that French appear “markedly predominant” on such advertisements, posters and commercial signs alongside the English mark. “Very important” is defined as the French text having a “significantly greater visual impact” than the non-French text, which is the case if (1) the French text covers a space at least twice as large as the non-French text. French, (2) the font of the French text is at least twice as large as the font of the non-French text; and (3) the remainder of the poster or sign does not diminish the visual impact of the French text. In addition, for an English mark to appear on all advertising and signage (whether externally visible or not), that mark must now be registered first, whereas common law marks or trademarks subject to pending could previously qualify for an exemption from the French language requirement.

Violations of Bill 96 requirements could result in fines ranging from $3,000 to $30,000 per day for businesses and $700 to $7,000 per day for individuals, with those fines doubling or tripling for subsequent violations. or continue. The requirements of Bill 96 could significantly increase business costs, particularly the cost of translating product packaging, advertisements and signs intended for the Quebec market. In light of the passage of Bill 96, companies doing business in Quebec should consider filing Canadian trademark applications. The trademark requirements of Bill 96 come into effect in three years (June 1, 2025), which is the approximate length of the review period for trademark applications in Canada.

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