IHOP sues IHOP over IHOP trade mark infringement

Confused already? Me too. Prepare yourself for a battle of biblical proportions as one IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) sues another IHOP (the International House of Prayer) over its use of those four famous letters, citing trade mark dilution and infringement.

The International House of Pancakes – most famous for its “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” breakfast and the no-doubt nutritionist-recommended pancakes stuffed with cheesecake – first opened its doors over 50 years ago and has been using the IHOP acronym since 1973. As at 30 June 2010, there are 1,476 IHOP restaurants globally.

The International House of Prayer was founded in 1999 and is open 24/7, every day of the year, for people to come in and, well, pray. Allegedly, some prayer IHOPs have started serving food and the group has plans to construct a $150 million world headquarters including the IHOP University. But again the pancake restaurant may have beat them to the punch – it applied to register the trade mark “IHOP U” on August 31 this year.

Pancake IHOP has six registered trade marks featuring the IHOP acronym. But other than the acronym, the two have pretty much nothing in common (unless the prayer IHOPs serve food under the IHOP name). Still, under US trade mark law pancake IHOP may well succeed. The lawsuit claims the church group “selected and adopted the International House of Prayer name, knowing it would be abbreviated [to] IHOP. IHOP-KC intended to misappropriate the fame and notoriety of the household name IHOP to help promote and make recognizable their religious organization.” So even though the church is likely to assert no confusion could exist between the two because of the different goods and services produced by each entity, the restaurant may well have the right to protect itself outside the scope of its trade mark because of the fame of its mark.

The suit was filed after the church refused repeated requests to stop using the trade mark. The pancake IHOP lawyers have provided the court with bundles of evidence from websites, newsletters and signs on buildings where the prayer group has allegedly used the IHOP trade mark. So you might say the odds are “stacked” against them. Ahem… sorry about that…

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