September 2016
PFD | Intellectual property

The display of trademarks in Québec

By Josée Tourangeau Lawyer

On May 4, 2016, two draft regulations aiming to provide a framework for trademarks were published in the Québec Official Gazette. Adopted under the Charter of the French Language (the Charter), they constitute upcoming amendments to the current legislation.

The amendments were set out by the government in response to recent legal setbacks1 in its attempts to justify the position taken by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).In 2010, the OQLF began to require that businesses add a generic French-language identifier to public signs exhibiting trademarks in a language other than French.

The amendments to the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business will apply to all businesses in Québec, regardless of their size. They do not require the net predominance of French or equal visual effect of the French-language content with respect to the trademark but "sufficient presence" of French is now mandatory.  

What types of signs are affected?

  • signs located on the outside of a building, including on a roof, regardless of their composition or how incorporated they are to the structure.
  • signs on the outside of premises located in a shopping centre or building complex
  • signs inside a building or inside premises which are intended to be seen from the outside (e.g. window display)
  • signs on a bollard, totem or any other independent structure near a building or premises unless the trademark is already displayed according to the above-mentioned conditions

What types of French presence may be added?

  • a generic term or description
  • a slogan
  • French-language information, specifically on the products or services that the business provides

For example, adding a French-language menu outside a restaurant whose trademark appears only in a language other than French could suffice. Or a business owner could add Vêtements pour enfants in his or her store window display.

How should the presence of French appear?

  • It must be in the same visual field as the trademark.
  • It must have permanent visibility (it must not be of a precarious nature or be easily removed or torn off).
  • It must be lit at all times (if the trademark is also lit) but does not necessarily have to be displayed in the same place, in the same materials or in the same number or size as the trademark.

Subject to certain exceptions, the provisions will apply when new trademark signage is installed or replaced.

Current signage must comply with the regulations in the three years following their coming into effect.

As the amendments come into effect, the OQLF has declared that it will support business seeking assistance and provide information on the obligations with regard to the use of French in Québec and their implementation.


1Québec (procureur général) v. Magasins Best Buy Ltée 2015 QCCA 747, confirming 2014 QCCS 1427 (j.c.s. Michel Yergeau)