Yoga, which is a practice from ancient India has gained worldwide popularity. Since the Indian Prime Minister termed yoga the “unifying force of the world”, yoga has become one of the biggest mass movements in the quest for good health and well-being. As it continues to transcend borders and cultures, the question of intellectual property rights (IPR) within the realm of yoga is worth exploring.
Yoga is a holistic discipline that includes breathing exercises, meditation, ethical principles for leading a healthy life, and physical postures (asanas). It is a tried-and-true method that encourages self-realization, mindfulness, and general well-being.
IPR in Yoga
When Bikram Choudhary attempted to copyright his series of yoga, it was the first time when a discussion took place on Yoga and Intellectual Property Rights.
Copyright and Yoga
When it comes to copyright, what is copyrightable and what not is subjective to the National Laws of the Country.
In 2015, The Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals determined that a series of heated yoga positions made popular by self-described “yogi to the stars” Bikram Choudhury was not protected by copyright. The Court ruled that other studios were permitted to teach the sequence. Bikram Choudhury is the Founder of Bikram Yoga, a form of hot yoga consisting of a fixed series of 26 postures practiced in a hot environment of 40 °C (104 °F). The business became a success in the United States and then across the Western world, with a variety of celebrity pupils. In 2009, he filed a series of copyright claims against Evolution Yoga in Florida in an attempt to preserve the Bikram Yoga series of poses; however, he was unsuccessful, and other studios continue to teach the series. 
The major issue dealt with here that was the “Sequence” is entitled to copyright protection. The Court held that the “Sequence” was a concept, process, or system intended to enhance health under the idea/expression dichotomy, and copyright only protected the expression of this idea, the words, and images used to explain the sequence, not the idea of the sequence itself.
Moreover, as per the Judgement of Delhi High Court in the case of the Institute for Inner Studies and Ors. vs. Charlotte Anderson and Ors., IIS claimed that the performance of the ‘Pranic Healing’ technique was a work of choreography and hence copyrightable under Section 13(a) of Copyright Act, 1957 as a “dramatic work”. The Court after detailed analysis, discussed the idea of expression dichotomy and further that the techniques of the Pranic Healing along with literary works, do not cover within the ambit of the dramatic work as provided under the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957 and reinstated that IIS cannot claim copyright ownership over Pranic healing or any other yoga techniques per se, which is a part of traditional knowledge since the time of Maharishi Patanjali. The Court mentioned Section 2(h) of the Copyright Act which defines a “dramatic work” and cited Bikram’s Yoga(2012) case as an example in concluding that mere selection and arrangement of physical movements and naming it as ‘Pranic Healing’ will not make it a work of choreography and hence ruled out copyright protection for the dramatic work.
According to the aforementioned cases, the court made it quite clear that yoga poses or asanas are not considered “original literary works or dramatic works” under the Copyright Act and cannot, thus, be protected by copyright. Thus, it is challenging to demonstrate the originality of yoga asanas, and simply placing them in a sequence won’t grant copyright protection under most jurisdictions.
Trademark and Yoga
The word “yoga” cannot be trademarked since it is descriptive and generic. In order for a mark to be protected under trademark law, it must be unique and distinctive. Institute for Inner Studies (same as above) is the case at hand. The plaintiff asserted ownership of the phrase “Pranic Healing” and that due to their long-standing use of the term, it had come to have a secondary meaning. The defendants argued that “Pranic Healing” is both a generic term and in the public domain. These two arguments were used to reject the plaintiff’s Trademark claim and to argue that they were of secondary importance, respectively. The IIS also committed “fraud upon the register,” according to the court, by deliberately applying to trademark a generic word with no distinctiveness. Therefore, it can be derived from this decision of the Court that terms such as ‘yoga’, ‘pranic healing’, ‘pranayama’ or any other term that has no distinctiveness and has its roots deep in our ancient traditions can’t be simply trademarked.
However, Trademark protection can be sought to protect organizations, and companies connected to yoga sessions and exercises, clothes, and related occurrences. For example, in class 41, many marks of the institutions for yoga can be found like Passion Yoga, Cool Yoga, etc.
Patent in Yoga
The idea of patenting yoga looks quite absurd; nevertheless, if we look at the patentability criteria, namely novelty, inventive step, and industrial applicability, yoga does not meet any of them. Yoga asanas, for example, are deeply rooted in ancient traditions and have been practiced for centuries, making them part of the public domain. To obtain a patent, an invention must possess originality, which entails being novel and not publicly disclosed before the filing of the patent application. As yoga asanas are already in the public domain and widely known, there is no room for claiming novelty or originality. Thus, there can be no patent protection for yoga asanas in any form.
Traditional Knowledge and Yoga
Indians have always refrained from defending any IPRs related to yoga. Around 1500 yoga poses are currently stored in India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which is accessible to major patent offices for searching, therefore in the pre-grant stage itself, they can file an opposition against anyone who would try to patent a yoga asana. Yoga cannot be unique or new because practically every asana and teaching are known to everyone who has mastered the practice. In the long run, India will gain from yoga’s inclusion in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), since it will act as a deterrent to foreign businesses looking to capitalize on India’s cultural heritage.
While simple yoga routines may not meet the threshold for copyright protection and creative expressions, fitness-related brands can still leverage copyright protection for films, descriptions, and compilations of yoga movements, ensuring the uniqueness of their offerings. Additionally, trademarks provide valuable opportunities for exercise brands to establish and protect their branding elements, allowing for monetization through licensing and training programs. By navigating the realm of IPR with mindfulness and strategic planning, yoga practitioners and exercise brands can safeguard their creative expressions and brand identities in the ever-growing world of yoga by protecting years of invaluable knowledge with the appropriate form(s) of IPRs. As yoga gains global popularity, it is crucial to navigate this intersection with sensitivity and respect. Respecting yoga’s ancient origins, cultural heritage, and traditional knowledge will ensure that it thrives as a transforming practice for future generations. Let us, as practitioners, instructors, and lovers, celebrate the essence of yoga while keeping its rich legacy in mind.
 Bikram’s Yoga Coll. of India, Ltd. P’ship v. Evolation Yoga, Ltd. Liab. Co. – 803 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2015)