The Québec government recently tabled a bill, called Bill 69, that seeks to amend several statutes, including the province’s Charter of the French Language, so as to better protect the French language. This bill seeks to consolidate existing rules, so as to reinforce the idea that French is the sole official language of the province of Québec, including in principle in how business is conducted.
Interestingly, as to I.P., the revised Charter would do away with an exception that legislators had inserted in the original statute, namely that trademark were generally exempted from complying with normal rules, including on store signs. Indeed, up to now, the Charter accepted that trademarks, whether registered or unregistered, were essentially outside the scope of what could be regulated by this provincial statute. As such, the OQLF could hardly enforce rules meant to force businesses to use and display French (e.g. on store signage, etc.), whenever trademarks were involved. This lead many businesses to adopt and use English-based trademarks, something that Québec courts eventually confirmed as totally acceptable under the existing Charter of the French Language.
This provides context to Bill 69’s introduction, as the Québec government is clearly now attempting to slam the door shut on that trademarks exception, to the fullest extent (legally) possible. To do, the revised version of the French Charter would essentially restrict what are considered trademarks for purposes of the exception explained above. If/when the bill goes through, the only trademarks that would remain considered protected from the obligation of being shown in French, are marks that have been duly registered, period. In effect, this would do away with trademarks displayed by businesses that did not bother or did not manage to register in Canada.
Québec cannot forbid non-French trademarks (because of the Canadian Constitution), but it can try and restrict what it will consider a trademark for the purposes of its language laws, which is exactly what this is about.
Setting aside the issue of whether legally a province may do something like this, businesses may want to start preparing for the proposed changes to the French Charter, by simply registering their marks, assuming they haven’t done so already. Though large companies will usually have done so, a lot of small and medium sized businesses do not bother registering their marks, preferring to fall back on common law rights. If those marks are in a language other than French, this may soon become a problem.
Fortunately for SMEs, registering a mark in Canada is relatively inexpensive, as compared to other jurisdictions. Businesses should however take note that typical delays are now around 3 years to register a mark in Canada. Given that the French Charter’s new provisions on trademarks will come into force 3 years after adoption of the bill, businesses the trademarks of which have not already been registered may want to get on it.
Mind you, Bill 69 has not yet been formally adopted but with a majority government in Québec at the moment, it seems to make little doubt that the bill will be adopted at some point.