Thursday, May 15, 2014

Can I "Own" Yoga Method?

Dear Rich: I just read your answer about Bikram Yoga (yes, the one dating back in 2011, I'm a slow reader :) and I have a related question. I understand that Bikram Yoga cannot restrict competing brands from using heat in their studios. But what is the principle behind this ruling? (I am talking about the environment in which people practice yoga, not the actual postures). If I, for example, come up with the concept of FlowerYoga (not a real concept, by the way) which means that people will practice yoga surrounded by flowers, would I be able to "protect" this concept in any way? And would I be looking for a copyright agreement or a trademark?  The principle behind the Bikram decision is that copyright law -- which protects manifestations of ideas such as writings, images, recordings, films and software -- will not protect methods or processes. Trademark law -- which protects names, logos and packaging used by businesses -- will not protect anything "functional." So a company like Bikram can use trademark law to stop others from using its name, and it can use copyright law to stop others from reproducing its books, brochures and videos. But it can't use trademark or copyright law to stop others from offering a sweaty yoga class (or other possible deviations on yoga piracy).
What about patent law? A patent is granted for a novel process or device that is not obvious to people who are skilled in the field. Although there's little novelty in spreading carnations or turning up the thermostat, some inventions associated with yoga can acquire patent protection. If you seek to patent a yoga method, keep in mind that there's the possibility of bad press, as well as high patent fees and enforcement costs.

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