Last year, I wrote a post about the lawsuits of hot yoga businessman Bikram against other yoga teachers using similar poses/sequences to the ones his studios offer. In that post, I wrote the following:
I find lawsuits of this nature, involving attempts to control the spread of religious/spiritual practices and teachings, quite troubling. Finding the line between an individual or organization’s new and original work, and the historical underpinnings of that work is rarely an easy task. In addition, the whole infusion of monetary settlements, patent rights, and proprietary controls, while seemingly a correct response in a capitalist society, creates a shift away from basic protections of religious/spiritual teachers and institutions, and towards a corporate re-culturing.
The decision by the Indian government to patent yoga poses is a direct response to the actions of people like Bikram. It’s also an intelligent counter-use of a capital tool in my opinion. This isn’t the first time India has gone this route. Some of you might recall that the neem tree was under threat for decades, until multiple court cases led to the revoking of patents in 2005. Biopiracy continues to be a major threat across the globe, however, as are other aspects of the modern colonialism, which is what the actions of folks like Bikram should rightly be called.
Trying to claim ownership over ancient spiritual practices is a pretty sick business. But it’s been a quite popular one.
In the United States alone, the patent authorities have issued more than 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks related to the ancient practice.
I’ll be honest. The entire patent system is problematic in my view. It assumes a kind of individualism and separated genius I just don’t believe in. And so, I hope actions like this one by Indian leaders might eventually lead to a rethinking of the whole works.
Vrksasana @ Flickr
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