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Quebec Proposes Legislative Amendments to Require More French on Public Signs

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Intellectual Property Bulletin

After a defeat in the Court of Appeal in a long-running battle on the use of English only trademarks on storefronts, the Quebec government has decided to amend the law and increase the requirement for French signage. In 2015, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of an exception to the general rule requiring all public signs to be in French. That rule gives businesses the option of adding a second language such as English, providing the second language is not more prominent than the French. The exception permits the use of unilingual non-French trademarks where an equivalent French version of the trademark has not been registered.

On Tuesday May 3, 2016, Quebec's Minister of Culture and Communications announced proposal's to require more French on outdoor signs that contain unilingual non-French trademarks. The proposed regulatory changes would require all Quebec businesses that use a non-French trademark to add a French message to their outdoor signage. The proposal offers several options, and the government is showing some flexibility on the type of French message that must accompany a non-French trademark. The message could take form of a generic or descriptive word or phrase such as "Restaurant" or "Magasin de vêtements". It could also simply translate the non-French trademark, or it can present information in French relating to the products or services offered by the business. Whatever the form of the French message, it must be illuminated when the non-French trademark is illuminated, and must be within the global field of vision of the business' façade.

What kind of trademark sign or poster will trigger the need for a French statement? A non-French trademark without a French equivalent that is displayed on a sign or poster on the outside of a building or outside a business in a shopping centre, or on an independent structure such as a post or a pole.

The government is also proposing a limited number of exceptions to the new requirements notably when the non-French trademark is the name of a person or a place such as "Paddy McGinty's" or "Las Vegas", or when the building is a temporary or seasonal facility.

Businesses will have three (3) years to comply with the required changes, but any businesses created after the changes come into effect will have to comply immediately. The Quebec government is inviting public comments on the proposals between May 4th and June 18th, 2016.

We are available to provide any additional information or respond to any questions you may have.


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