The Glendale News-Press reported today that the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) is dropping its suit against the International House of Prayer. The pancake house alleged trademark infringement against the church, claiming customer confusion in its use of the acronym IHOP. The pancake house sued back in September and has decided to resolve the case through mediation.
A trademark is a brand name. It’s is a legal term used to describe a mark or logo, which distinguishes goods from one seller from another. Trademark infringement often occurs when a third-party uses a similar mark in a way that would likely confuse customers as to the source of the goods. For example, a soda can’t be named Koka-Kola, because it’s pronounced the same as ‘Coca-Cola.’ Although the term is spelled differently it would likely lead a consumer purchasing from Koka-Kola to believe the product came from Coca-Cola. This is often referred to as the ‘sight, sound, and meaning test.’
Based on this test it’s easy to see why IHOP sued. The trademarks are exactly the same! But, hold on there’s more. An important factor courts consider is the relatedness of the goods. For example if Koka-Kola was a brand of sheet metal than the chance of confusion with a soda is greatly reduced. A common real-world example is Delta, which is both a trademark for the well known airliner, but also for plumbing products.
The pancake house and the house of prayer appear unrelated. The restaurant claimed that if the church ever served food, then it would be in a related industry directly competing. This relatedness argument is most likely the reason the restaurant dropped its case in court. Mediation will allow the restaurant to work with the church to craft a creative solution, which allows both to use ‘IHOP.’
The lesson IHOP teaches is to do your homework! Before starting a restaurant or launching a new food product take a moment to search the US Trademark and Patent Office to find out if there is a company using a similar trademark in a related industry.
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