Yogis bent out of shape over posing patents

A downward dog yoga pose

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Steve Chiotakis: The health industry is a big market, and now yoga is a growing slice of it. Classes, mats, books and other spin-off items, have made yoga a $6 billion a year industry. So it's perhaps not surprising that there's a rush to patent yoga poses at U.S. patent offices. That's got some people in India bent out of shape. Raymond Thibodeaux reports from New Delhi.


Raymond Thibodeaux: In a leafy Delhi suburb, yoga teacher Mani Chaitanya leads a class in Sivananda Yoga. His students crouch down like sprinters at the start of a race, then fold themselves in an upside-down V. Chaitanya says it's hard to imagine that some yoga positions, better known here as asanas, could be off limits to him and his students because of patent infringements. Or, more likely, they'd have to pay extra to do the patented moves.

Mani Chaitanya: The truth cannot be patented to anybody. Truth can be available to anybody. Gravity cannot be patented. Same thing. Even yoga cannot be patented by somebody.

But when several yoga gurus in the U.S. started franchising their yoga centers, they applied for patents for their signature styles.

V.K. Gupta heads the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. It's part of India's Center for Scientific and Industrial Research, the government agency trying to stop the patenting of traditional yoga moves. He believes that any patent-hungry yoga teacher does not have Yoga's best interests at heart.

V.K. Gupta: He wants to make his own money, for his own benefit, on the knowledge that he has no business to make money on because he did not create it. That knowledge was created 4,000 years back.

Gupta says the problem is that knowledge is written in Sanskrit, an ancient and little-known Indian language. His team has spent two years combing through Sanskrit scriptures to identify at least 900 asanas and catalog them in English and other major languages.

Gupta: Our system is not fighting after the patent has been granted. We provide information to patent system so they do not grant a wrong patent.

That is a patent for a yoga pose that already exists. India has agreements with U.S. patent offices to protect its traditional knowledge from being wrongly copyrighted.

Still, the U.S. has issued about 130 yoga-related patents to date, many of them apparently for innovations to traditional yoga poses. But with more than 84,000 distinct yoga poses described in India's Sanskrit tomes, coming up with something original could be quite a stretch.

In New Delhi, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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