Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pancakes and Prayer

I figured this would happen sooner or later. The Kansas City-based ministry IHOP (International House of Prayer) has been sued by the other IHOP…the International House of Pancakes for trademark dilution and infringement. The California-based restaurant chain claims it made several attempts to persuade the ministry to change their name to avoid confusing the public. The lawsuit was prompted by the ministry’s expansion plans plus some of their branches are now serving food (it’s actually a coffee shop called Higher Grounds that sells coffee and bagels…no pancakes).

In one way, I'm a little more supportive of the restaurant. After all, they trademarked the initials IHOP 26 years before Mike Bickle founded International House of Prayer. Mike could settle this matter out of court by renaming the ministry to something like Worldwide House of Prayer. Other ministries have changed their names for various reasons. For example, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship was originally called Toronto Airport Vineyard. Now they have changed their name again to Catch The Fire Toronto.

But what if Mike Bickle insists on keeping the IHOP moniker? If International House of Pancakes persists with this lawsuit, some Christians plan on hopping away from IHOP and take their business to other restaurants for their “prayer breakfasts.” It would be unfortunate if the International House of Prayer were forced to spend extra money on legal expenses.

International House of Pancakes spokesman Patrick Lenow has said that they are compelled to protect the “good name” of IHOP. Does a prayer ministry using identical initials really damage the reputation of a restaurant? Last December I went to Kansas City to attend IHOP’s OneThing conference. Some friends of mine from Minneapolis who also traveled to Missouri often went to the pancake place after the evening meetings. I actually read on a message board that the restaurant closest to the International House of Prayer headquarters gives discounts to prayer house staff members.

Sounds like the two IHOPs can be a blessing to each other.

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.” - Proverbs 22:1


  1. As a Christian trademark attorney, let me just say - IHOP (pancakes) HAS to "protect" its mark, or else anyone, whether church or otherwise, can misappropriate it. One critical factor regarding the strength of a mark is how the owner has protected it from infringers. So if someone wanted to start the "International House of Puppies" to promote its dogbreeding or "International House of Pizza", etc., when IHOP sued that party, the party would use, as evidence, the existence of IHOP-KC to prove that the IHOP mark is not "strong."

    The fact that the restaurant is not seeking money damages is in fact remarkable for a case like this. A boycott is not needed here: a prayerful reconsideration of the "theft" of the trademark rights of others is.

    There is also the need for a discussion of Matthew 5 and a Christian response to lawsuits, I think.

    Ross Chaffin
    Trademark Attorney

  2. Thanks for your insight, Ross. I agree that corporations have the right to protect their trademarks.

  3. This morning I was treated to breakfast @ IHOP (the pancake place) in Queens, NY. As my host and I left the restaurant, the Lord led me to minister to a man standing by a fence a few yards away. Jim said he wanted to be in a "better place" when he dies. He now has a reservation in heaven. Hallelujah