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Does anyone own the rights to yoga?

If you've looked at the class list at any fitness center in the United States, chances are you've seen yoga listed at least once or twice. You can't even walk into a retail store without seeing workout outfits or mats specifically designed for this form of exercise. For a lot of our California readers though, this isn't surprising when you consider that in the U.S. alone, yoga is a $10-billion-a-year industry with more than 20 million followers.

With a figure like $10 billion a year, you're probably thinking, "That's a lot of money someone could be collecting in royalties if they owned the patent for yoga." If you're thinking this, then you may have today's title question on your mind as well: does anyone own the rights to yoga? Let's find out.

Though most people know that yoga has cultural ties to India, it's worth noting that it's difficult to pinpoint exactly who invented it, meaning allocating rights to its invention becomes incredibly difficult. The best that could be done is to attach "geographical indication" to yoga, which would give India claim to its origin and importance to that region.

Though this formal acknowledgment of geographical significance is supposed to deter imitators from cashing in on the idea, there is no global governing body that handles international disputes regarding infringement in this area. This means that it would be difficult for India to enforce intellectual property rights from country to country.

In contrast, unique styles of yoga, developed in recent years can be subject to intellectual property protections, particularly using trademarks to associate a particular style with the specific originator of the style. It is therefore possible to take something that is not protectable because it has been around for a very long time and develop intellectual property rights around a new and unqiue version of it.

An example such as this not only highlights the importance of knowing your rights to your own intellectual property but the legal issues you could run into when dealing with laws in other countries. It's cases such as this that illustrate the need for skilled legal representation, especially if you want to come to a fair resolution for a complex issue.

Source: The Atlantic, "Who Owns Yoga?" Tanya Basu, Jan. 12, 2015

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