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Bizarre Yoga Patents Deepen Indo-US Dispute

India felt the need to develop a video library to restrict anybody, who tried to make profit by cornering the 5,000-year old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating to himself

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Unraveling the pieces of yoga's origin is as hard as nailing headstand during yoga practice. Even the veterans might not be a master at the art of balancing.

With the second edition of International day for yoga June 21, 2016 coming up and preparations going on in full-swing, we must also look at how yoga is perceived at a global platform and what are the issues that concern the yoga enthusiasts?

In comparison to the organised niche growth of the yoga in the US, yoga market in India remains largely an unorganized with a few underserving brands and health centers. Also, yoga's near-complete transition from spiritual practice to trendy fitness activity is a epicenter for a spirited debate these days.

How far has the debate gone?
Off late, Americans have tried to acquire patents over yoga postures and this news has made Indian yogis and gurus furious. The dispute began when yoga entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhry, self-proclaimed Hollywood yoga professional insisted on getting a copyright on his style of yoga four years ago. He argued that it is the 'American way' of doing things and therefore one cannot do Bikram Yoga unless he receives the royalty. Many similar claims started cropping up after this and India took the call seriously.

India felt the need to develop a video library to restrict anybody, who tried to make profit by cornering the 5,000-year old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating to himself. Hundreds of historians, translators, scientists are now engaged in cataloguing 1,500 yoga poses known to us from ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian.

Already, India has successfully won the petition against a US patent granted to two Indian-born Americans, who used the spice 'turmeric' for wound-healing product. That patent has now been revoked by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Another attempt to patent a mouthwash formula containing herb (Nutmeg- Jayaphal) extract by 'Palmolive-Colgate' had to restricted at the European Patent office. However, in Bikram Choudhry's case, India has no plans to challenge him in court but it hopes the digital library will stop others from following him.

With great surge in its popularity worldwide, everyone is looking for a golden opportunity to be associated with the field and make some quick money. It is no joke that it has become a $225 billion industry worldwide with over 200 million yogis in the business and their big brands.

It is revered among people in UK, Australia and Japan and is becoming immensely popular as a healthy way of living. Several businesses have developed around yoga and have witnessed a steep growth since the past few years. Ultramodern businesses such as yoga vacations, retreat planning, wellness therapies, digital yoga, yoga fitness gear and mats, mega yoga studios, yoga wear and corporate yoga companies have been flourishing in USA for almost a decade now.

As a matter of fact, yoga is looked upon not only as fitness regimen for the body, it is perceived as a consumer cultural phenomenon which is a viable option for self-development combined with better lifestyle choices. All these ingredients make yoga attractive for the young, middle-aged and senior citizens alike.

This in turn has prompted India to take a stand for itself before the West can capture the ancient knowledge in shackles of patents, copyrights and trademarks. Some say India has been slow to assess how the world perceived Yoga but it is has to be understood that for Indians, yoga has always been something widely available in the public domain. For them clutching it inside one's fist is unimaginable. Also, to orientalists the thought of disassociation of yoga from any religious or spiritual connotation is upsetting.

India's Take on Yoga Ownership
The Modi government has taken this debate seriously and hence have begun a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unit of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of the Ministry of Science and Technology, to challenge several claims made by global MNC's and individuals for patenting different branches of yoga. The aim is to build a centralized 'unofficial' response guide to thwart any bad claims seeking royalty in existing yoga postures.

Already in attempt to realize the importance of our age old heritage, yoga is being incorporated in schools, hospitals, police academies and the creation of the video documentation will also promote the 'correct' yoga poses for common people.

India's aggressive campaigning and lobbying efforts in the UN for celebrating the International Day for Yoga, all point towards Modi's bigger plans for Make in India. Infact, he even floated a special ministry of yoga, to deal with the domestic trade and commerce of yoga. Shripad Yasso Naik's appointment as the Minister of AYUSH (The Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) might also be an attempt, to get a slice of the multibillion dollar American pie by establishing Yoga's Indian-ness in the minds of people.

Indeed yoga is India's greatest cultural export, but the way it has been accepted overseas is very distinct from the way people perceive it in India. Popular yoga guru Baba Ramdev, promoter of Patanjali Ayurved, one of the fastest growing FMCG brand in Asia also believes that, "Yoga can't be owned and run like a company?"

Nonetheless, the US Patent and Trademark office has reportedly issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 trademarks on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. However after the bitter experience of fighting a costly legal battle for neem and turmeric patents, TKDL's database currently is being used as a reliable reference source, with over 2.93 lakh items enlisted, that were traditionally used in India before granting patents to any individual or any MNC.

Today, if we say that India is attempting to "take back yoga," it is a misnomer. The whole debate is not about taking back yoga from anyone but simply insisting upon highlighting yoga's Hindu roots without insisting that it should be practiced by people of a certain religion. "True" yoga will ultimately lead oneself on the path of spiritual liberation and it does not require any superficial capitalist touch for same.

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