Yoga from Traditional Knowledge to IPR: Yoga is no YO!ga

It is a common perception that Yoga is increasingly becoming subject to the Intellectual Property rights (IPRs) of corporates resulting to Yoga Piracy Lawsuits. Yoga piracy refers to the practice of claiming IPRs including copyrights on yoga postures and techniques found in ancient treatises indigenous to India. Traditionally Indians have kept away from protecting any IPRs relating to Yoga, indeed the Indian Prime minister himself while addressing a joint session of the US congress mentioned the said fact.

Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) of India now holds around 1500 yoga postures and is made available for search to major Patent offices.

While it is ok to enforce Copyrights on books and videos, and trademarks for different Yoga institutes and accessories, what irked Government of India was the IPRs created on Yoga Postures. In the United States alone there have approximately 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks. Upon a complaint filed by Government, USPTO said there are no Patents in US related to yoga position, postures or asanas. Further, USPTO clarified that it had granted around 168 patents to yoga related device or accessories which includes mattress. This clarification was written in the statement issued by the US embassy on 7th of June 2007.

Yoga is a $30-billion business in the US that includes accessories, equipment, instructional books and DVDs.

Although no patents were filed on yoga postures, there are cases like the Bikram yoga copyright on 26 yoga postures and Yogaglo patent which is based on online yoga video website for filming perspective and classroom setup it uses in its streamed video content. America’s best known Yogi Bikram Choudhury has copyrighted and trademarked 26 postures performed as specific temperature and further has copyrighted various books, audiotapes and videos. Bikram also made to use “Bikram yoga” while teaching his sequence of postures. Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU) has filed a declaratory judgment suit, seeking a court declaration that Choudhury does not have enforceable copyright or trademark rights. OSYU claims include that individual yoga postures (asanas) are within public domain and cannot be copyrighted. In another case, Yogaglo patent allegedly misusing the yoga knowledge but violating business ethics by other techniques like gaining right on filming the yoga setup and further a method to capture. Yogaglo served Yoga International, a branch of the non-profit Himalayan Institute, with a cease-and-desist letter to enforce the patent. This patent, if issued, can potentially stop other yoga websites from setting up a yoga classroom with an aisle down the centre of the room, students on either side, and teacher in the front.

By Abhijit Savadatti

Patent Associate, StratJuris Partners


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