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French language requirements in Québec: Part 2 – Inscriptions on products and accompanying documentation

The French language holds status of official language in Québec through the Charter of the French Language (R.S.Q. c. C-11) (the French Charter)1. In a continued examination of the French language requirements for commerce and business in the province of Québec, this second article of Smart & Biggar’s French Charter series will provide an overview of the requirements pertaining to inscriptions on products and the documentation typically supplied with them.

For an introduction to the French Charter, please see the first article of this series here.

Inscriptions and documentation

In the branding of products, various inscriptions may appear on a product itself, its container, or its wrapping. An inscription can include a description of the product, its place of origin, a trademark, the age required to use the product, a safety notice, a trademark ownership or license notice, and the list goes on and on. The documentation supplied with products include, but are not limited to, certificates of warranty, certificates of authenticity, user manuals, brochures, promotional materials, registration cards and discount coupons.

General Rule

The general rule under the French Charter is simple: any inscription on a product, its container, its wrapping, or on the documentation supplied with it must be in French. Other languages may be used, provided that they (individually) not be given greater prominence than the French language2. In practice, it means, for example, that an inscription in English could be equal or less prominent than the corresponding French inscriptions 3.

The examples below illustrate this requirement:

Fabriqué au QuébecFABRIQUÉ AU QUÉBECFabriqué au QuébecFabriqué au Québec
Made in QuébecMade in QuébecMade in QuébecMADE IN QUÉBEC

Exceptions

The Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business (R.S.Q. c. C-11, r.9) (the Regulation), adopted under the French Charter, provides a series of exceptions to the general rule set out above. These exceptions may be divided into two categories:

1. Exceptions as to the type of products

Inscriptions on the following products, their container, and their packaging may be exclusively in a language other than French:

  • a cultural or educational product such as a book, magazine, publication, disk, film or tape, a non-promotional greeting card, appointment book or calendar (if the content is in a language other than French or if the cultural or educational product, greeting card, appointment book or calendar contains no language) (Regulation, section 2);
  • the product is intended for a market outside Québec (Regulation, section 3(1));
  • the inscription appears on a container used in interprovincial or international transportation of merchandise (Regulation, section 3(2));
  • the product is from outside Québec, has not yet been marketed in Québec and is being exhibited at a convention, conference, fair or exhibition (Regulation, section 3(3));
  • the product is from outside Québec, is intended for incorporation into a finished product or for use in a manufacturing, processing or repair operation and is not offered in Québec at retail (Regulation, section 3(4));
  • the product is from outside Québec and is in limited use in Québec and no equivalent French substitute is available in Québec (Regulation, section 3(5));
  • the product is from outside Québec and the inscription is engraved, baked or inlaid in the product itself, riveted or welded to it or embossed on it, in a permanent manner (however, inscriptions concerning safety must be written in French and appear on the product or accompany it in a permanent manner) (Regulation, section 3(6));
  • an inscription embossed on a tire (Regulation, section 4);
  • an inscription on the original wrapping of perishable food from outside Québec (provided that the food is not offered for retail sale in that wrapping) (Regulation, section 5);
  • an inscription on a product from outside Québec to be used for medical, pharmaceutical or scientific purposes or an inscription on the container of such a product (provided that the French version of the inscription appears on the wrapping of the product or on documentation supplied with the product and either of the following conditions is met:
    • the product is not offered in Québec for retail sale and no equivalent substitute presented in French is available in Québec; or
    • the product weighs 100 g or less or its container has a capacity of 10 cm3 or less or 10 ml or less) (Regulation, section 6).

2. Exceptions as to the nature of the inscriptions

The following inscriptions on a product may be exclusively in a language other than French:

  • the name of a business not established in Québec (Regulation, section 7(1));
  • a name of origin, the denomination of an exotic product or foreign specialty, a heraldic motto or any other non-commercial motto (Regulation, section 7(2));
  • a place name designating a place situated outside Québec or a place name in such other language as officialized by the Commission de toponymie du Québec, a family name, a given name or the name of a personality or character or a distinctive name of a cultural nature (Regulation, section 7(3));
  • a “recognized trademark” within the meaning of the Trademarks Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. T-13), unless a French version has been registered (this exception will be further discussed in an upcoming article of our firm’s French Charter series) (Regulation, section 7(4));
  • a toy or game the operation of which requires the use of a non-French vocabulary may bear an inscription that is exclusively in a language other than French provided that a French version of the toy or game is available on no less favourable terms on the Québec market (Regulation, section 8).

Navigating this considerable list of exceptions may seem quite challenging, especially considering that the meaning and scope of these exceptions is not always easy to understand. In addition, there are other subtleties under the French Charter and the Regulation pertaining to the language of commerce and business (namely for restaurant menus and wine lists, software, and list of ingredients for cosmetics), which are not addressed in this article.

Not only do businesses and their marketing team have to understand the requirements and exceptions set out above, they also have to address an important marketing issue: how to fit French inscriptions on very limited spaces. Fortunately, practical solutions can generally be found, but this requires a good understanding of the requirements set out under the French Charter and its ensuing regulations as well as of the specific industry practices in terms of marketing. In a coming article, we will focus on the recognized trademark exception and will provide practical tips.

If you have questions about the French Charter’s requirements and exceptions relating to inscriptions on products and their documentation, please contact a member of our firm’s Trademarks & Brand Protection group for further guidance and assistance.

The next article (part 3) of Smart & Biggar's French language requirements in Québec series will explore language used in commercial publications, including websites and social media. Subscribe to our IP Update — Canada newsletter to receive the full series and other timely updates in your inbox.

The preceding is intended as a timely update on Canadian intellectual property and technology law. The content is informational only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. To obtain such advice, please communicate with our offices directly.

References

French Charter, section 1.

French Charter, section 51.

Le français, langue du commerce et des affaires au Québec – Les obligations des entreprises relativement aux produits offerts au Québec”, available online at https://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/francisation/entreprises/20180328_guideproduits-2018.pdf, at pp. 1-2.