September 1, 2022Client Alert

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

On June 1, 2022, the National Assembly of Quebec sanctioned legislation 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 those non-French language marks that are registered in Canada, any descriptive or generic terms in those marks must be translated into French on products.  Additionally, the new law will impact English language signage and advertisements.  These requirements under Bill 96 will come into force on June 1, 2025.  

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

While legal challenges to Bill 96 are anticipated, ultimate implementation of Bill 96 would impose additional requirements relating to trademarks, product packaging, and store signage.  Presently, an English trademark may be displayed without translation into French, provided 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 needs to be registered in Canada.  Additionally, if a registered English mark contains generic or descriptive terms, then a French translation of such 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 advertisements.  Although the current Charter permits English marks to appear on advertising and commercial signage visible from outside the premises if (1) a French registration does not exist and (2) a “sufficient presence” of French text appears on the remainder of the advertisement or signage, Bill 96 heightens the standard by requiring that French appear in a “markedly predominant” manner on such advertising, posters, and commercial signs alongside the English mark.  “Markedly prominent” is defined as the French text having a “much 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, (2) the French text’s font is at least twice as large as the non-French text’s font; and (3) the remainder of the poster or sign does not diminish the French text’s visual impact.  Additionally, for an English mark to appear on any advertising and signage (whether visible from outside or not), such mark must now be registered first, whereas common law marks or marks subject to pending applications previously could qualify for an exemption from the French language requirement.

Violations of Bill 96’s 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 such fines doubling or tripling for subsequent or continuing violations.

Bill 96’s requirements may significantly increase business costs, including translation costs for product packaging, advertisements and store signage intended for the Quebec market.  In light of Bill 96’s passage, companies doing business in Quebec should explore filing Canadian trademark applications.  Bill 96’s trademark requirements become effective in three years (June 1, 2025), which is the approximate duration of the Canadian trademark application examination period.

If you have questions about the new requirements in Quebec, or other trademark or advertising matters, please contact your Michael Best attorney.  To serve our clients’ global needs, Michael Best is the exclusive member firm in Wisconsin for Lex Mundi – the world’s leading network of independent law firms, with in-depth experience in 125+ countries worldwide, including Canada.

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