Making a mark: Québec’s Bill 96 and trademark implications for Manitoba businesses
Recent developments in Québec should catch your eye if your organization has a trademark and does business, operates, or has retail products for sale in Québec. The reason? New legislation called Bill 96, an Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec.
The Charter of the French Language in Québec (the Charter) was amended this year by Bill 96. It’s not the first time the Charter has been amended, but Bill 96 provides sweeping changes to all elements of business, government, and more.
Bill 96 was adopted in June 2022, with some provisions having immediate effect, and others having a one-to-three-year delay of enforcement. That said, business owners should make changes sooner than later due to how long it can take to complete the necessary adjustments.
How exactly does Bill 96 affect your trademark? Bill 96 brings more obligations to every company doing business in Québec and increased fines for non-compliance, so it’s worth paying attention to what changes have been confirmed and what remains to be settled.
What are my obligations?
Bill 96 impacts everything from commercial advertising and government contracts to customer service and even how security is registered in Québec. Many areas will require a business owner’s attention, including trademark use.
Before Bill 96, the Charter required non-French trademarks on posters, public signage, or commercial advertising to be accompanied by a sufficient presence of French language (e.g., a French trademark, a French slogan, or a generic French phrase). Many businesses relied on an exception to the Charter that allowed recognized trademarks (either federally registered or gained through unregistered use under the common law) to appear exclusively in a language other than French.
With Bill 96’s trademark-specific amendments coming into effect in June 2025, this exception is much narrower: It only will apply to registered trademarks that do not have a registered French version. Common law trademarks on public signage, posters, and commercial advertising will need to be translated, to be registered solely in English, or to have “markedly predominant” French words and phrases around their use. Markedly predominant means:
- the French language must have at least twice the space of the non-French language;
- the text in the French language must be at least twice as big as in the non-French language;
- the French language must have much greater visibility than the non-French language.
For trademark use on products specifically, any generic language that is part of a non-French registered trademark under the exception must be translated to French and highlighted. Lastly, a warning to those who have both a registered French version of a trademark and a registered non-French version: If you have a registered French version, the exception does not apply and the French version must be used.
Similar changes will affect trademarks on product packaging and retail labels. As with public signage and commercial advertising, businesses with common law marks can no longer rely on the exception.
These are just some of Bill 96’s changes surrounding intellectual property.
What happens if I don’t comply?
Bill 96 expanded the Office québécois de la langue française’s (OQLF) powers significantly. The amendments allow the OQLF to enter a place of business affected by the Charter at any reasonable time and begin an audit. The changes also let other businesses or customers initiate complaints that detail a potential offence.
The newly increased fines that come from each infraction are tallied daily and can be enforced by the Québec Superior Court. These stiff remedial fines range from $3,000 to $30,000 on a first offence. Second and subsequent offences attract fines from $6,000 to $60,000 and $9,000 to $90,000, respectively.
Additionally, directors of a corporation could be on the hook for offences. A director’s fines for a first offence range from $1,400 to $14,000, with second and subsequent infractions doubling and tripling those amounts, respectively. A bit of math and a daily tally means these fines can add up quickly.
I operate or do business in Québec — what should I do now?
We have a few recommendations for businesses with public-facing trademarks:
- consider an audit of your packaging, digital and physical publications, and all trademarks in use, whether registered or not;
- carefully consider developing French versions of your trademarks and whether they would be beneficial for you; and
- start the process now because trademark registration can take significant time, and the Canadian trademark office is likely going to get busier due to these changes.
Beyond trademarks, Bill 96 will affect payment processing, websites, business-affiliated social media accounts, and more. Ensure you have translations of your publications ready to go and that your partners have a French version of their publications and platforms readily accessible. Generally speaking, a French version of any publication or platform will also need to be available as prominently as the most accessible non-French version.
Given the wide-reaching effects of Bill 96, there may be further amendments. As well, regulations under the Charter were not wholly revised under Bill 96. We expect to see more guidance from the OQLF on how to interpret the amendments. We are also expecting clarity on what exceptions may be removed, be added, or be retained.
Suffice to say, the wide range of impacts from Bill 96 means that organizations doing business in Québec should reach out to their legal counsel for specific advice on how these changes affect their trademarks, their general operations, and more.
Fillmore Riley LLP’s Intellectual Property Practice
The lawyers in the Intellectual Property practice at Fillmore Riley LLP can optimize your business and help you get the most out of your intellectual property. Contact one of our lawyers today to learn more.