On 1 June 2025, Canadian traders may be impacted by wide-ranging amendments to the Charter of French Language made by Bill 96 which affect trading in Quebec.
Nine of Canada’s provinces and three of its territories are English speaking. However, in Quebec which is the largest province by area and the second-largest by population, French is the official and preponderant language. The Charter of the French Language from 1977 has made various requirements in Quebec regarding the use of the French language, including on products and services.
Until now trade marks registered or used in Quebec did not need to be used or presented in French. Bill 96 has reduced the trade mark exceptions which will mean that within Quebec some parts of trade marks may need to be presented in French. Non-compliance with the rules from 1 June 2025 may lead to fines being issued. As a result of the changes, Australian businesses seeking to export their goods or services to Québec should think ahead and start preparing now.
The amendments should not be an issue if your trade mark is a logo, shape or colour trade mark. If the trade mark contains words and the trade mark is registered in Canada then in most cases it does not need to be shown in French. However, if the trade mark contains any words which are generic or descriptive of the good or service offered then that word needs to be shown in French.
The strict reading of the new requirements suggest that a pending trade mark in Canada does not receive the same benefit as a registered trade mark and may need to be shown in French. Given there are very long delays in trade mark examination in Canada this would mean some less than desirable outcomes for trade mark holders that are waiting to secure registration, for example, Rio Tinto which means “red river” in Portuguese might need to be shown as Rivière Rouge.
The Canadian Trade Mark community and the International Trade Mark Association (INTA) have raised concerns with the Quebec government regarding the effect the changes have on trade mark use and are also seeking to have clear guidelines published to assist traders to comply with the new requirements.
Other notable changes happening across Canada
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is increasing most of its official fees by 25% on January 1, 2024. The increases apply to fees paid on or after this date. Accordingly, the early payment of fees such as renewal fees, patent examination fees and patent divisional filing fees before the end of 2023 will lead to a direct saving.
Steps you should take next
If you are considering a new Canadian trade mark application, we recommend that you provide us with instructions urgently, to allow sufficient time for trade mark registrations to be finalised, or close to finalised, as the current waiting period is more than 36 months before examination occurs.
If you have an existing registration in Canada, we recommend that you consider the scope of the registration to see if additional goods or services should be protected. If your trade mark contains generic of descriptive words then you may need to consider how your trade mark may be formatted to meet the new requirements for use within Quebec.
With respect to saving on fees, if you have a renewal due in Canada in 2024 perhaps consider moving payment forward to 2023 or if your patent might have examination fees due, or you may be considering a divisional filing, consider if it is able to be actioned in 2023.
If you have any questions about the impact these changes will have on your IP rights, please contact a member of our Trade Marks or Patents team.