Further amendment to the Charter of the French Language - Québec limits scope of trademark exception for product labelling and packaging

Proposed amendment would come into force three years after enactment

4 minute read
20 April 2022

This is an update to our May 2021 bulletin regarding Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, which proposed a significant overhaul of the Charter of the French language[1]. The controversial Bill is currently at the stage of clause-by-clause consideration by the Committee on Culture and Education ("Committee"), and has undergone numerous amendments in recent months. While reviewing the text of the Committee's recent debates, we were surprised to note the addition, during these debates, of a new amendment which, if adopted in the final version, will have a considerable impact on the use of non-French trademarks in the province of Québec. This new amendment drastically curtails the rules governing the use of non-French trademarks on product packaging and labelling in the province.

Currently, a recognized (i.e. registered or common law) trademark in a language other than French is exempt from translation requirements when appearing on a product or its package or label, on condition that no French version of the mark has been registered. Under the recent amendment, this exemption has been modified as follows:

  • It would apply only to registered trademarks; meaning that common law marks (i.e. marks that are in use but have not been registered) would be subject to translation requirements.
  • If a trademark that benefits from the exemption includes a generic term or a description of the product, this generic term or description would have to appear in French elsewhere on the product or a support that is permanently affixed to the product. No details have yet been provided with regards to what will be deemed a generic term or description for the purposes of the above.

This amendment as well as additional amendments relating to trademarks discussed in our previously mentioned bulletin on Bill 96 have been adopted by the Committee. Therefore, unless further amended during additional discussions of the National Assembly, these amendments will eventually come into force.

Following the Committee's debates of April 14, 2022, it appears that, as is the case for the other amendments relating to trademarks under the Bill, this amendment will come into force three years after the Bill is enacted. The government has indicated that a regulation will be adopted under Bill 96, but has given no indication as to whether such a regulation will contain any details or nuances regarding the above.

As these modifications will have a significant impact on businesses that sell products in Québec, by requiring that non-French trademarks on products be registered and that certain inscriptions on product packaging and labelling that have until now been exempt be translated, we recommend consulting your Gowling WLG trademark or advertising professional in anticipation of the changes, in order to register your non-French marks and discuss how Bill 96 will impact your business. We also invite you to consult our previous article for a reminder on the other advantages of registering trademarks in Canada.

Gowling WLG is monitoring the progression of Bill 96 and will provide further updates as these become available.

[1] Quebec's new language Bill-96 proposes drastic amendments to French language laws

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