India is the land of tradition and culture. Traditional knowledge has been transferred from generation to generation for ages. Yoga, basically a group of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines, originated in ancient India and aims to control (unite) and still the mind that recognizes a detached witness-consciousness untouched by the mind (Chitta) and mundane suffering (Duḥkha). Yoga has evolved and been modernized too with time. This modernization includes various modified and combined Yogic postures (Asanas) derived from the ancient Yogic scriptures.
Since its inception in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2014, India has been diligent in sharing the knowledge and power of Yoga with the celebration of The International Day of Yoga (IDY) annually on June 21. The year 2022 marks the 8th Edition of the International Day of Yoga and its theme “Yoga for Humanity”, by the Ministry of AYUSH, clearly depicts India’s firm stand on the Global Yogic Revolution for sharing and teaching the wisdom of Yoga to the entire humanity.
Recently, Yoga as an Intellectual Property (IP) has given birth to a new era of conflict between India and the rest of the world. There have been many patents, trademarks, and copyrights applied and granted in the Western World countries like the US, the UK, and others including the EU. Before being a part of this IP-Yogic World War, let us step back in time a little and try to understand the IP and the Yogic universe separately and then in conjunction. Let’s bust some common myths about Intellectual Property and Yoga.
Yoga – Copyrights & Trademarks
Despite many Copyright Treaties and Acts, and amendments to such Copyright Acts, there is still a debatable question of whether yoga asanas or yoga poses can be copyrighted or not. In the famous case of Institute for Inner Studies (IIS) v. Charlotte Anderson, 2014, the court debated whether yoga asanas and pranic healing could qualify for a copyright or a trademark. The Court ruled and stated that yogic techniques or yoga asanas are not ‘original literary works or dramatic works’ under the Copyright Act and therefore cannot be copyrighted.
Yoga Asanas or Yoga Poses per se cannot be copyrighted since one cannot stop someone from using the traditional knowledge which is not owned by anyone at present. Modified yogic pictorial logos or names can be applied for copyrights and trademarks though. One can easily apply for copyrights and trademarks for their yogic name for teaching and spreading the essence of yoga, like yoga teaching centers and institutes.
Is Yoga Patentable?
Let’s first understand the pre-requisites for any idea or technology to be patentable. Any invention or innovative concept or even advancement in any existing technology can be granted a patent only if it is a novel or unique, inventive, and industrially applicable invention. The Indian Patents Act, 1970 also clearly defines that traditional art and knowledge, or any healing (or a therapeutic or medicinal) process cannot be patented.
Being a well-known ancient and traditional practice, Yoga Asanas do not qualify for any of the aforementioned criteria. There have been documented pieces of evidence like the yogic scriptures, the ancient medical teachings, and much more. Most of the yoga asanas are also recorded and well documented in the CSIR’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. This has enabled the CSIR and other Government and interested authorities to challenge and oppose anyone, who would try to patent a yoga asana, at the application as well as the pre-grant stage itself. Even if a Yogi claims to develop a new yoga asana or new way or a modification for performing an existing yoga asana, it would be extremely easy for opposing such an absurd claim as there is no new way left for doing a yoga asana or any so-called new asana that is not well-defined and taught in the ancient yogic scriptures.
Yogic IP is protecting and propagating the very essence of yoga for yoga is a way of living.
Yoga – Health & Wellness
Well, there is still hope for the medical and the health industry to grow their Yogic IP Portfolio. One can still apply and receive a grant for a patent in this field, as health equipment like unique yoga mats, innovative ayurvedic equipment, and likewise products can be patented.
According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, the global market size for Yoga is projected to reach USD 216 Billion by 2025, and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) in collaboration with Invest India – a National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency, Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy, Ministry of AYUSH, and Startup India has launched various programs and schemes for promoting Health and Wellness industry on a national and global scale. These include numerous yogic applications and healing benefits of performing yoga, like the development of bio-instrumentation, accessories that may be used while practicing yoga, development of IT solutions, applications, and platforms implementing AI/ML innovations, development of props, accessories, and apparel increasing comfort and aiding the practice of yoga. Applying and getting a patent granted for a yogic product will not only strengthen the Indian Health & Wellness industry but also unfold and widen the Indian Economic Expansion worldwide as the power of Yoga.
Yoga per se is Non-Patentable, But Yogic Products indeed are your Intellectual Property.