Québec politicians have approved Bill 96, the government’s controversial law to protect the French language in the province.
Among other things, Bill 96 aims to reaffirm that Québec’s only official language is French and to promote the presence of the French language in Québec.
The new law, officially titled An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, reforms several pieces of Québec legislation – including the Charter of the French Language (Québec’s infamous Bill 101) – and touches everything from education and health to the right of immigrants to be served in other languages.
We will focus here on the implication for trademarks and communications.
Currently, in Québec, a “recognized trademark” (i.e., a mark that is registered/applied for in Canada, or a common law mark) that is not in French is exempt from translation requirements when displayed, as long as no French version of this mark has been registered.
Bill 96 will have a significant impact on the ability to use non-French trademarks on product labelling/packaging in Québec.
The “recognized trademark” exception will be replaced by a “registered trademark” exception.
→ Registered trademarks will be allowed to appear only in a language other than French providing no corresponding French version has been registered. (Source)
→ Moreover, if a non-French registered trademark used on product packaging includes a generic phrase or a description of the product, the generic/descriptive phrase will have to appear in French on the product or on a medium that is permanently attached to the product. (Source)
Until now, French has had to have a “sufficient presence” when advertising visibly outside the premises. A “sufficient presence” means giving a prominent display to the French accompanying the mark.
Bill 96 specifies that the presence of French is not sufficient in itself, but that it must be “markedly predominant” when a trademark appears in a language other than French and is visible from outside a company’s premises.
→ In order to display a non-French trademark in commercial advertising, public signs, and posters, the trademark must be registered pursuant to the Trademarks Act and must not have a corresponding French version (i.e., common law marks no longer qualify).
→ Bill 96 proposes that on public signs and posters visible from outside the premises, French has to be “markedly predominant” if there is a non-French trademark. (Source)
→ The term “markedly predominant” is defined by regulation and generally means that the space devoted to the text written in French must be twice as large or that the visual impact of the text written in French must be much greater. (Source)
→ Bill 96 also proposes that French has to be “markedly predominant” on public signs and posters visible from outside the premises if the advertising features the company’s name and includes an expression in a language other than French. (Source)
The French Shop can help companies that wish to work in Québec pivot their branding strategy and make the following adjustments:
→ Examine trademarks appearing on packaging and determine whether a French translation is required for generic or descriptive phrases.
→ Work on signage to include a “markedly predominant” amount of French.
The devil is in the details
For Bill 96, the devil is in the details, and questions remain about how and when the far-reaching law will be put into practice. But for now, know that French must be “markedly predominant” in public signage no later than May 2025. (Source)
We understand that this can be a bit overwhelming for companies looking to establish themselves in the province, but as Québec experts, the TFS team will be closely following the adoption of the law and its impact from this side of the fence. Meaning we’ll have a relevant inside perspective that will serve as a reassurance to our clients and ensure best practices in the market.
Updated changes to packaging, signage and advertising under Québec’s Bill 96 - Torys link