Intellectual Property (IP) Protections for YOGA
Yoga has become an integral part of everyone's existence; people seek it for fitness, to overcome various health problems, to bring positivity into their lives, and to live a wholesome lifestyle. Owing to this there is an increasing interest in protecting Yoga as Intellectual Property in different forms like Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Geographical Indications.
Yoga's inclusion in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) will eventually benefit India, as it will operate as a barrier to foreign corporations seeking to profit off India's cultural history.
Over the last few decades, there has been an upsurge in the prevalence of Yoga. The word 'Yoga' comes from the Sanskrit root 'Yuj,' which means 'to join, yoke, or unify.' While there are over 100 different styles of yoga, the majority of sessions incorporate breathing exercises, meditation, and taking postures (also known as asana or poses) that stretch and flex various muscle groups. Yoga is not a mere exercise but a spiritual discipline that focuses on bringing mind and body into harmony.
Origin of Yoga
Yoga is believed to have originated in India about 5,000 years ago. As per the yogic lore, Adiyogi, the first Yogi, transmitted the science of Yoga to the legendary Saptrishis or "seven sages".
Due to the oral transmission of sacred writings and the secrecy of its teachings, Yoga's past is riddled with mystery and confusion. Early Yoga literature was recorded on delicate palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or lost. Although Yoga's origins can be dated back over 5,000 years, other academic experts believe it could be as old as 10,000 years.
Yoga and IP
Yoga has become an integral part of everyone's existence; people seek it for fitness, to overcome various health problems, to bring positivity into their lives, and to live a wholesome lifestyle. Owing to this there is an increasing interest in protecting Yoga as Intellectual Property in different forms like Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Geographical Indications. Let’s study IP (patents, copyright, trademark and GI) rights for Yoga.
When Bikram Choudhury attempted to copyright his Hot Yoga Series, it was the last time a link between Yoga and intellectual property was widely discussed.
For the uninitiated, Bikram Choudhury is the creator of Bikram Yoga, a type of hot Yoga that consists of a set of 26 postures performed in a hot atmosphere of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). With a range of celebrity pupils, the firm became a success in the United States and later around the Western world. In 2009, he filed a series of copyright claims against Evolation Yoga in Florida in an attempt to preserve the Bikram Yoga series of poses; however, he was unsuccessful, and other studios continue to teach the series.
Yoga and Patents
There are specific conditions and prerequisites for anything to be patented: it must be innovative, unique, and profitable. If someone were to try to patent a Yoga Asana, they would have to meet all of these requirements. A Yoga pose cannot be new or unique because it has existed since ancient times, as evidenced by numerous scriptures present in India like the Vedas and the Upanishads.
The practice of Yoga cannot be patented, however, the material, equipment or accessories that assist in practicing Yoga can be patented.
Yoga mats, clothes specially made for performing Yoga, Yoga blocks, Yoga wheel, etc. are some items that fall under the patentability criteria and can be patented.
Yoga and Copyrights
Regarding the definitions of "dramatic works" and "literary works," it is evident that the Copyright Act cannot be extended to include a monopoly right over the performance of Yoga asanas or pranic healing based on the way they are stated in a book.
Even though simple Yoga or workout routines are unlikely to exceed the minimum threshold of originality in most jurisdictions, a film or description of such a practice in the form of a book, novel or blog, as well as a collection of images showing the routine's individual motions and poses, may qualify for copyright protection.
Books, magazines and instructing manuals on Yoga, Yogic dramatic work like videos and records can be copyrighted by the original creator of the art.
Yoga and Trademarks
A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises and businesses. Generally, it can be a name or a logo.
A trademark should be distinctive and non-generic. Yoga includes myriad practices related to stretching, breathing and postures.
Getting a trademark just for the word Yoga is not feasible as it would be descriptive and generic.
In the IIS case, the plaintiff claimed that they had trademarked the phrase "Pranic Healing" and that the term had acquired secondary value as a result of the plaintiff's long-standing usage of it. The defendants contended that the phrase "Pranic Healing" is both a public right and a generic word. These two arguments were used to reject the plaintiff's Trademark claim and to argue that they were of secondary importance, respectively. The IIS also committed "fraud upon the register," according to the court, by deliberately applying to trademark a generic word with no distinctiveness.
It should be noted that institutes, brands related to Yoga classes and exercises, clothing and associated phenomena can protect their brand names with trademarks. The only care that needs to be taken is to follow the Trademark guidelines and ensure that the name or logo is not against the laws of Trademark registration.
What is a Geographical Indication (GI)?
A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place.
In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
Scope of Granting a GI to Yoga
Treaty-based GI systems, as well as national and regional rules, provide for the protection of only goods or products through geographic indications. Furthermore, the quality and other characteristics of these commodities must be mainly attributable to their origin. To begin with, none of these regimes has ever understood the terms' goods' or 'products' to include what may be considered an 'exercise' or an 'activity,' such as Yoga.
The most common GIs, in fact, is limited to wines and spirits, as well as meals and agricultural products. Traditional art and handicrafts in India have also been granted GI protection. Yet no GI protection has ever been offered to an exercise that is similar to Yoga or may be compared to Yoga.
What if Yoga is Granted a GI Tag
• With an exercise like Yoga, it's probable that its reduced practice in India, along with intellectual property protection, may be detrimental to its practice and potentially jeopardize its survival.
• The Union government has admitted that yoga practice has declined to unacceptably low levels, which is why Yoga is being promoted in schools.
• Perhaps South Indian states would want a GI for Bharatnatyam and Brazil for Samba. Then, perhaps, it will spread to major sports, and all too soon, various activities will become so heavily regulated that they will no longer be able to flourish or thrive.
Problems in Granting Yoga a GI Tag
Yoga does not meet the criteria that qualities be mostly related to the area of origin. Yoga is famed for its healing benefits, but not because it originated in India. It's therapeutic and beneficial to one's health simply because the action has such an impact on the human body.
As a result, there is just a remote chance that Yoga will be given a GI. Even if this improbable prospect materializes, a number of concerns must be addressed to understand the implications of such a donation.
Under the GI Act, registered proprietors cannot allow "authorised users" to make items outside of the geographical area represented by the indicator. So, requiring authorisation for practising Yoga outside of India is a legal impossibility because separating the subject of GI from the geographical place strikes at the very heart of GI jurisprudence.
Obtaining a geographical indication for Yoga would be nearly impossible in practice. While Yoga did indeed originate in India, its widespread adoption in the West—including the hundreds of types of Yoga, created by enterprising westerners like mommy-and-me Yoga, nude Yoga, and dog Yoga—makes it a little harder to explain how its Indian origins are always essential to the practice or characteristics of Yoga today.
Yoga as India's Traditional Knowledge
The CSIR has included most Yoga asanas in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, allowing them to file an opposition against anyone attempting to patent a Yoga asana at the pre-grant stage. Because practically everyone who has mastered Yoga is familiar with every asana and teaching, it would be impossible for it to be distinctive or innovative.
A number of international treaties deal partly or entirely with the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin. There's a clear reason why GIs are limited to agricultural products, wines, and handicrafts, or, to put it another way, to goods and products in general. Importing this protection to Yoga or any other similar activity would jeopardise the activity's survival.
While the proposal to grant Yoga a GI is motivated by a desire to improve India's image and "reclaim from the western world what is properly India's," adoption of the proposal could spell the end of Yoga. As a result, it is fortunate that there is no precedence for such GIs and that there are no active talks on Treaties between States or legislation in countries proposing to extend GIs to non-goods or traditional spiritual activities.
Yoga's inclusion in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) will eventually benefit India, as it will operate as a barrier to foreign corporations seeking to profit off India's cultural history. Yoga, one of the country's most underutilized assets, can be used to boost the country's intellectual property rights collection. Given the prevalence of biopiracy, an organisational strategy is required to protect national interests. Under a non-disclosure pact, TKDL is shared with foreign counterparts such as the European Patent Office, the United States Trademark and Patent Office, and other international agencies, preventing misuse and undue advantage of Yoga.