Perusing the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's quote "Yoga is India's gift to the world", the Ministry of Science and Technology is attempting to protect yoga as traditional knowledge of the country from international piracy. Around 1,500 yoga poses have been shortlisted and 250 of them are video-graphed to add to the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which is India's online repository which aims at protecting India's assortment of traditional knowledge (such as Ayurveda, Unani and Sidha systems) as its national heritage. Yoga Experts along with scientists from Council of Scientists and Research Institute have compiled a list of postures with the help of the ancient holy texts such as Mahabharata, Bhagwad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras etc. which will be added to the TKDL to prevent its monopolization by foreign entities. Yoga postures known as "aasnas" are a part of historical Hindu culture and philosophy that has been developing since time immemorial. It is not only a means of physical fitness but also a spiritual and holistic science. The word itself, linguistically related to "yoke," first appears in the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text from around the 15th century B.C., to describe a chariot yoked to horses, in which a felled war hero might ascend to the sun1. Literally, it means "union", derived from the Sanskrit roots denoting joining of inner self to the world, which ultimately leads to self-realization.
Various countries like Russia, China and USA, have had an opportunity to indulge in the lucrative business that yoga offers – by patenting yoga related accessories, for instance, yoga mats, chairs and related devices. It has also led to cropping up of diverse 'genres' of yoga by self-proclaimed yoga gurus (Bikram Choudhury who claims a copyright over 'Hot Yoga', also known as Bikram Yoga which is extremely popular in USA). Online websites like 'YogaGlo' claiming to patent 'method and apparatus for yoga class' and brands designing 'yoga pants' has resulted in USA holding numerous IP related rights for yoga to the tune of millions. However, the Indian courts in Institute of Inner Studies vs Charlotte Anderson2 held that the yoga aasanas and pranic healings which are derivatives of ancient techniques cannot be subjugated to IP laws. It was held that no one can be given copyright or trademark over yoga techniques, as they are not original literary works or dramatic works under the Copyright Act, 1957, and are not capable of distinctiveness under the Trademarks Act, 1999.
Yoga & Copyrights
Discussing the concept of the idea-expression dichotomy the court held that while certain literary aspects may be subject to copyright protection, since both the parties were intending upon practicing postures originating from the same idea i.e. pranic healing, different forms of expression could contain substantial similarities making it essential to analyze the extent of substantial similarities. With regard to the definitions of "dramatic works" and "literary works", the court was of the view that protection under the Copyright Act cannot be extended to include monopoly right over the performance of the asanas of yoga or pranic healing on the strength of the way they are stated in a book as this would be granting a monopoly right to the art or to techniques which have been in the public domain from time immemorial and which are also found in ancient books and texts.
Yoga & Trademarks
Due to the generic and non-distinctive nature of the terms, which is one of the main criteria for trademark registration under Section 9 of the Trademarks Act, a prima facie inference was drawn that the claims of registration were inconsequential as they lacked distinctive character. It was held that there was no case of trademark infringement as the plaintiffs held no monopoly over the terms. Moreover, neither the term was able to distinguish any particular form of Yoga nor able to indicate a source, no protection can be granted could be granted.
The recent declaration of 'International Yoga Day' on June 21, 2015, by the United Nations, saw the world commemorating and promoting Yoga with great enthusiasm. Domestically, policies to bring yoga into police academies, hospitals, and schools are being implemented, in addition to spearheading efforts to bring more foreign investors into the wellness industry as part of his 'Make in India' campaign. While still at a nascent stage, India has taken a progressive step towards protecting its ancient and traditional knowledge. Inclusion of Yoga in the TKDL will ultimately benefit India, this step acting as an impediment to those foreign entities who seek to reap the fruits of India's indigenous heritage. Yoga, one of the greatest untapped assets can be utilized to strengthen the country's aggregation of intellectual property rights. Given the rampant bio-piracy, an organizational approach is needed for safeguarding the national interests. TKDL is shared with the international counter-parts like the European Patent Office, United States Trademark and Patent Office and other international bodies under the non-disclosure pact which will enable aversion of misappropriation and "de-commercialization" of yoga.
1. "India and Politics of Yoga" available at (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/opinion/india-and-the-politics-of-yoga.html?_r=0) (Last viewed on 7 September 2015)
2. CS(OS) 2252/2011
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