New regulations coming into force regarding the presence of French on outdoor signage in Québec. Are you ready for November 24th?


New regulations coming into force regarding the presence of French on outdoor signage in Québec. Are you ready for November 24th?

Catherine Bergeron [1] and Gabriel St-Laurent [2]
Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents

Any corporation who wishes to do business in Quebec must take into consideration the requirements related to the Charter of the French Language (hereinafter the “Charter”). Indeed, amongst its provisions, the Charter provides that the name of a corporation must be in French in Quebec. However, as opposed to certain provisions regarding the display of a trademark on public signs and commercial advertising, the Charter contains no such exception allowing the use of a business name only in a language other than French.

Over the past few years, the Office québécois de la langue française (hereinafter the “OQLF”) has adopted a stricter approach in prohibiting businesses to display their non-French trademarks on their public signs on the ground that such use was to be considered as use of a business name (as opposed to use of a trademark for which there is an exception allowing a trademark to be displayed in a language other than French). As a consequence to this trend, many businesses received notices from the OQLF asking that, as a minimum, they add a generic French component to their name in a language other than French displayed on their signs.

A group of large companies challenged the OQLF’s position and the Quebec Court of Appeal sided with them in April 2015, confirming that businesses could display their names, used as trademarks recognized within the meaning of the Trademarks Act, on public signs outside their premises without the need to add generic French language. [3]

In response to this, the Quebec Government fought back by introducing amendments to the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business (hereinafter the “Regulation”) in

November 2016 that made it mandatory for businesses to abide by certain rules to ensure a sufficient presence of French in the same visual field as their trademark displayed only in a language other than French. In order to allow corporations to comply with these new amendments, the Government granted them a three-year grace period which will come to an end on November 24, 2019.

These new amendments require that the use of a trademark only in a language other than French, displayed outside a building or outside a premise located inside a building, must provide a sufficient presence of French, notably through the use of:

  1. a generic term or a description of the products or services concerned;
  2. a slogan;
  3. any other term or indication, favouring the display of information pertaining to the products or services to the benefit of consumers or persons frequenting the site.

These additions are aimed at all trademarks displayed outside a building, whether buildings with an exterior storefront or premises located within another building, such as a shopping mall, and whether the signage related to the building or premises appears, inter alia, on the roof of the building, on a projecting or perpendicular sign, or on signs or posters displayed on a bollard or other independent structure. The amendments also provide exceptions in the case of certain types of signage, including instances where a trademark appears in more than one place.

Aside from providing where and to whom these requirements may apply, the Regulation also provides that the “sufficient presence of French” should be interpreted as meaning any signs or posters whose qualities:

  1. give French permanent visibility, similar to that of the trademark displayed, and
  2. ensure its legibility in the same visual field as that mainly covered by the trademark signs or posters.

As such, the French generic term, slogan or description will need to be designed, lit and located in such a way that both components (i.e., the trademark and the French inscription) can be easily read at the same time.

After November 24, 2019, the OQLF will become entitled to impose penalties on corporations not complying with these new amendments.

Is your signage compliant? For questions concerning the provisions of this Regulation or on the requirements of the Charter in general, do not hesitate to contact a member of our trademarks group at

© CIPS, 2020.

[1] Catherine Bergeron is a partner, lawyer and trademark agent for ROBIC, LLP, a firm of Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents.
[2] Gabriel St-Laurent is a lawyer for ROBIC, LLP, a firm of Lawyers, Patent and Trademark Agents.
[3] Québec (Procureure générale) v Magasins Best Buy ltée, 2015 QCCA 747.