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Ask the Experts: Quebec’s new sign law

By Giovanna Spataro

Q: What is Quebec’s new sign law?

Giovanna says:
An amendment to Quebec’s Regulation Respecting the Language of Commerce and Business requires all new outdoor signage installed after Nov. 24, 2016, to feature a sufficient presence of French. Specifically, this entails the inclusion of a French generic term, descriptor, slogan or any other indicator favouring the display of information relating to the products or services offered by the business.

The term, slogan or description must be permanently visible, legible and shown in the same visual field as that of the sign or poster bearing a non-French trademark. The legibility of the added French elements will be assessed based on the type of sign or poster.

The Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) has published a French guide, Affichage des Marques de Commerce, that provides examples of how to ensure the sufficient presence of French. These examples demonstrate while French elements need not be the same size as a non-French trademark, they cannot be of only minor importance and they must be of sufficient proximity to the trademark so as to be in the same visual field.

The new regulation applies to all outdoor signage displaying a trademark in a language other than French, including rooftop signs, storefront signs, signage located inside a building, mall or shopping centre (whether underground or above-ground), signs or posters inside a building intended to be seen from the outside and signs appearing on a terminal or other independent structure.

A few types of signs are exempt from the new rules, however, including those displayed on temporary or seasonal stands or kiosks and on totem-type structures on which more than two trademarks appear.

Q. How will this affect franchises opening or already operating in Quebec?

Giovanna says:
It is important to note no industry-specific exceptions have been enacted, so the new regulation will apply to all types of businesses that display a non-French trademark, including retailers, hotels, restaurants, bars, financial institutions, boutiques, shopping malls, professional firms, health clubs and all other buildings carrying on commercial activity.

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The new regulation does provide for a three-year transition period to allow businesses already operating in Quebec to modify their signage in compliance. So, all businesses—including franchises—that currently display a non-French trademark will have to ensure a sufficient presence of French on both new and existing signs by Nov. 24, 2019.

Q. What do new franchisees need to know before signing on?

Giovanna says:
New franchisees should inquire as to whether or not the signage for their franchise system they are joining already complies with the new regulation or is undergoing review to ensure timely compliance. It may take some time for franchisors to determine how to modify their signage in Quebec, so franchisees should not be surprised if updates are not yet available when they open for business.

Further, new franchisees should review their franchise agreement to determine if the costs related to the change of signage are (a) already factored into the various fees payable to the franchisor or (b) will constitute an additional expense.

Giovanna Spataro is a partner in Gowling WLG’s Montreal office, with a practice focused on trademark protection. For more information, contact her via e-mail at giovanna.spataro@gowlingwlg.com.

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