SUKETU, YOGA AND YOU
You may have read my 2002 article about Bikram Yoga, when it first came to Chicago.
And you've seen me prattle on and on and on about my regard for Park Slope-based writer Suketu Mehta and his 2005 masterpiece Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.
Now, Suketu tackles the subject of tradmarking yoga in a typically brilliant op-ed piece in today's New York Times. The complete text is here.
I GREW up watching my father stand on his head every morning. He was doing sirsasana, a yoga pose that accounts for his youthful looks well into his 60s. Now he might have to pay a royalty to an American patent holder if he teaches the secrets of his good health to others. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There’s big money in those pretzel twists and contortions — $3 billion a year in America alone.
It’s a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages. Should an Indian, in retaliation, patent the Heimlich maneuver, so that he can collect every time a waiter saves a customer from choking on a fishbone?
....It is worth noting that the people in the forefront of the patenting of traditional Indian wisdom are Indians, mostly overseas. We know a business opportunity when we see one and have exported generations of gurus skilled in peddling enlightenment for a buck. The two scientists in Mississippi who patented the medicinal use of turmeric, a traditional Indian spice, are Indians. So is the strapping Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, who has copyrighted his method of teaching yoga — a sequence of 26 poses in an overheated room — and whose lawyers sent out threatening notices to small yoga studios that he claimed violated his copyright.
Apparently someone even tried to tradmark "Om."
Suketu compares it to Indian companies copying patented Western lifesaving drugs and selling them at more reasonable prices -- a process that was stopped in its tracks due to WTO pressure in 2005:
Drugs and hatha yoga have the same aim: to help us lead healthier lives. India has given the world yoga for free. No wonder so many in the country feel that the world should return the favor by making lifesaving drugs available at reduced prices, or at least letting Indian companies make cheap generics. If padmasana — a k a the lotus position — belongs to all mankind, so should the formula for Gleevec, the leukemia drug over whose patent a Swiss pharmaceuticals company is suing the Indian government. But the drug companies are playing rough. Abbott, based in Chicago, has decided to sell no new medicines in Thailand, in retaliation for that country’s producing generic versions of three lifesaving drugs.
And the payoff:
If the copying of Western drugs is illegal, so should be the patenting of yoga. It is also intellectual piracy, stood on its head.
I'm so gonna stalk him when I'm in P-Slope this weekend....
And if you think you're gonna steal my idea, I'll sue your ass.
Thanks to Catesey for the hot news tip.