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Ease transition to new language rules for trademarks

The CBA's IP Section offers a way to help trademark owners operating in Quebec comply with Bill 96.

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Bill 96, An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec, received royal assent on June 1, 2022. It will affect non-French trademarks that appear on products sold in that province, starting on June 1, 2025. The Intellectual Property Section of the CBA, in a letter to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, or CIPO, asks that the current revision policy be amended to permit speedy examinations for trademarks intended to be used in Quebec.

Currently, the letter explains, a trademark may appear in Quebec in a language that is not French provided the French equivalent of the trademark is not registered in Canada. This is known as the “recognized trademark” exception.

This exception applies to trademarks that are registered in Canada and what’s known as “common law trademarks,” or trademarks that have become known through regular use in Canada but that are not formally registered.

When Bill 96 comes into force in 2025, the “recognized trademarks” exception will only apply to trademarks that are registered in Canada. Common law trademarks will have to be displayed in French.

This will “impose a significant burden on marketing in Canada – certainly entry into Quebec – of existing and future products and services whose identifying new English language mark … can no longer be used in Quebec without translation,” the CBA letter says. Trademark holders will have to register their non-French trademarks if they want to keep using them in Quebec past June 1, 2025.

Given current processing delays at CIPO, this may cause significant problems for trademark owners. In addition, the Section says, many global trademark owners often require “short runways of only months or weeks” given that they either operate on a seasonal basis like the fashion industry or have marketing strategies that rely on surprise product announcements. Think of Apple as a prominent example of this category.

Trademark owners would not have enough time to file and register non-French trademarks in Canada to comply with Bill 96, the letter says. This might cause some of them to reassess whether to do business in Quebec at all.

The CBA Section considers that the best way to avoid encountering those issues would be to speed up the process, specifically for CIPO to “amend its current policy concerning ‘Requests for expedited examination’ to include applications for marks for which there are concrete plans for use in the province of Quebec.”