Yoga Friday: Trademarks, copyrights and patents

by allthingsace

Yoga is one of thousands of traditional Indian products – including basmati rice and turmeric – that the Indian Government has been fighting to protect from Western patents in recent years.

Those gosh darn Westerners are at it again. Riding the wave of yoga and wrangling sequences and poses in an attempt to roll “original material” over for split end profit outlets.
When I began seriously practicing yoga in 2006 at a studio called, “Hot Yoga,” I had no idea there could be controversy within the yoga community. Like many naive practitioners, the terms, Hot Yoga and Bikram yoga became interchangeable to me.
There I was, in Florida, finding my practice, going from my first studio in Coral Springs to other Bikram Yoga studios around the Miami area, thinking these things were all the same. However, I did recognize that the sequences at my yoga base were preluded and concluded with a moment of Vinyasa and silent meditation. I did not make the connection that this was only not happening at Bikram studios.
It was not until I came back up north and attended a class at a Bikram studio here that my eyes were dramatically opened to the difference between the two.
Apparently, as my teacher in Florida told me, the whole hot yoga practice split up into two camps, those who agreed with trademarking the 26 poses that compose a Bikram yoga practice and those that do not.
At the time, I also did not realize that this conflict was so recent and so global. The Times Online recounts the debacle between Bikram Choudhury and the Indian authorities about the right to trademark a yoga sequence.
Indian authorities contest that yoga practice cannot and should not be trademarked, copyrighted or patented. However, the article articulates Choudhury’s argument from his attorney:

“The analogy to music is perfect,” John Marcoux, his lawyer, said. “He’s not claiming ownership of individual notes, but of a particular selection of notes and the arrangement of those notes.”

In defense of the Eastern world’s desire to keep yoga sacred and prevent it from becoming privatized, in 2002 a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library was set up to fight attempts to patent this ancient. At that time the library had compiled 4,500 items ranging from postures to medicinal plants. Today there are almost 900 yoga postures video recorded that are being translated into English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese. Read More.
The struggle to fight yoga patents continues to rage on today alongside the fight to block patenting of other similar birth rights, including DNA–but that is another story.