Trademarks on signage – proposed changes in Québec under Bill 96

May 31, 2021 | Lonnie Brodkin-Schneider

After much media coverage about anticipated changes to the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”), the Québec government tabled Bill 96: An Act Respecting French, The Official and Common Language of Québec (the “Bill”) on May 13, 2021 in the National Assembly. If passed, the Bill will amend the existing Charter with the aim of further securing the position of the French language as the ultimate language throughout Québec in many areas, including with respect to business and work-related dealings.

This newsletter is intended to highlight some important changes that relate to the use of intellectual property, in particular trademarks, displayed on exterior signage in Québec.

Provisions relating to wording on signage that includes any language other than French have undergone a number of changes over the years, and the Bill aims to further bolster the French language by ensuring its predominance on exterior signage that includes words in another language. Currently, trademarks that are “recognized” in Canada and include a language other than French, and for which there is no registered French version, are permitted on signage, provided that a French element, descriptor, or slogan is also present.  The Bill replaces the word “recognized” “with “registered” and thereby diminishes uncertainty on this issue in that common law trademarks will no longer be sufficient as a basis for the use of non-French trademarks on signage.  In addition, the Bill stipulates that the French elements on signage must be markedly predominant. These requirements could prove very costly to businesses as they may need to invest in new signage once again after having done so in response to the previous round of changes implemented only a few years ago.

To summarize, the proposed modifications to the Charter under Bill 96 reflect the current government’s desire to promote and preserve the French language. As a result, businesses in Québec may be required to make significant adjustments should Bill 96 eventually be passed into law.

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