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Yoga Copyright Is Challenged, Can Fitness Intellectual Property Be Protected?

Yoga has become big business with 16.5 million Americans practicing it and generating a $3 billion industry. One of its rock stars, yoga, Bikram Choudhury affords a collection of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. For 5,000 years it was quietly practiced in India and now the country wants to prevent people from illegally copyrighting the name. Money attracts attention. Will current U.S. trademark laws on forms of Yoga hold up? Remember Pilates.

July 8, 2006 Los Angeles, CA -- Can the intellectual property of fitness moves be legally upheld? It appears the U.S. judicial system may be sorting that out in the years to come. The latest challenge comes from the country of India who is challenging the U.S. trademark granted to Bikram Yoga.
" I don't want to own yoga. I just want to have quality assurance with my program."
    -- Beth Shaw, Founder and President of YogaFit

Landmark Case of the Pilates Trademark

It was a mere 6 years ago in a landmark decision handed down by the U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan on October 20, 2000, that the use of the term "Pilates" cannot be restricted by a trademark.

That case was between Pilates, Inc. and Balanced Body's Kenneth Endelman and came to a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum in June 2000. The case was, in effect, used to set a precedent in all cases involving the name "Pilates."

The judge ruled that the Pilates method is generic for exercise instruction services and exercise equipment, the inference being that anything associated with the exercise field that is named Pilates would also be generic.

Now with yoga, Bikram Choudhury, famous for his hot style of yoga, where the studio temperature averages 105 degrees Fahrenheit that carries his name of Bikram Yoga, obtaines a U.S. copyright on his style of yoga four years ago. In 2002, he extended that copyright to his style of yoga - 26 poses and two breathing exercises performed in a specific order.

India Prepares Its Case Against U.S. Companies Using the Term Yoga

In response, India has put 100 historians and scientists to work cataloging 1,500 yoga poses recorded in ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. India will use the catalogue to try to block anyone from cornering the market on the 5,000-year-old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating.

The government wants to thwart anyone who tries to profit from the nation's so-called "traditional knowledge," from yoga to 150,000 ancient medical remedies. India already has successfully challenged one U.S. patent granted to two Indian-born Americans who used the spice turmeric in a wound-healing product. That patent was revoked by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Yoga Class
The 5,000 year practice of yoga in India recently exploded into big business in the U.S. Will India succeed in challenging U.S. trademark laws?

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(8/17/2005) Yoga will help Madonna's Recovery from Injury

(11/9/2004) Yoga For Iconoclasts

(6/29/2006) Lotte Berk Method a Woman's Sculpting Exercise With Staying Power



YogaFit Also Has Trademarked Its Name

In addition to Bikram, another U.S. company that could possibly be affected is YogaFit, a copyrighted system of yoga teacher training that combines traditional yoga with modern physical fitness practices. It is a yoga program geared toward the health and fitness market and Beth Shaw, the founder and president, is constantly working to protect the program.

"In many ways, a copyright law is the only way to make sure that the program is safe", said Shaw, "I can't have people teaching YogaFit from off the streets hurting people with their lack of education. I don't want to own yoga. I just want to have quality assurance with my program."

In 2003, a group of yoga teachers sued Bikram, saying he couldn't copyright yoga. He fought back. "We didn't want what happened to Pilates to happen to Bikram," says his lawyer on the case, Susan Hollander of Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Now, anyone can teach Pilates; the name has no protection," Hollander says.

A federal judge ruled in April 2005 that Bikram's copyright was legitimate and enforceable. According to Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling, you can get a copyright on a "compilation" of information that's in the public domain, as long as it's "assembled in a sufficiently creative fashion." Both parties settled out of court before the case went to trial. No details were released.

Lotte Berk Protects Itself

In a parallel vein, Lydia Bach has gone through measures to protect the name "Lotte Berk Method" which she has trademarked. Bach purchased the worldwide rights to the name and teaching method back in 1970. With its overriding popularity, there has subsequently been a plethora of clones trying to cash in on her system. The trademark protection makes it illegal for them to every refer to their exercise style as Lotte Berk.

As its popularity has exploded, yoga has become a big business, with licensing and certification from yoga schools, consolidation and takeovers.

As a result, yoga copyrights and trademarks are sure to increase, says Stephen Russell, president of the Yoga Alliance, which registers training programs for yoga schools. That's because there needs to be a "barrier to entry" in the business, Russell says, so people can "protect their niche."

Yoga is a $3 Billion a Year Business

Americans spend about $3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including clothes, vacations, DVDs and books, according to Yoga Journal magazine. The magazine's 2004 poll of 4,700 Americans estimated that 16.5 million people practice yoga. That's an increase of 43% from 2002.

Source: Mindy Fetterman, USA TODAY

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