Monocolumn: Yoga Protectionism

Monocolumn: Yoga Protectionism

Modern patents on ancient knowledge have caused concern in India.

  • 24 june 2010

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

Monocolumn- Yoga Protectionism

For centuries, Indians have been sun saluting, warrior posing and applying the natural antiseptic turmeric to their wounds. This ancient know-how has long been common knowledge on the subcontinent.

However, when modern day companies began applying for – and winning – patents over this data, it became clear that action needed to be taken. Enter V.K. Gupta, a senior advisor with India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who suggested building a comprehensive database of ancient knowledge.

That was nine years ago, and since then more than 200,000 remedies and other items have been entered into the knowledge bank, known as the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL).

The office has had success in seeing numerous patents worldwide overturned. Recent cases include a Chinese firm seeking a patent over a bird flu remedy including mint; a Spanish firm looking to treat vitiligio with melon peel and even pharma giant Unilever, which wanted to take out a patent on a cardiovascular tonic based on apple and grape juice.

This month, some 900 yoga poses were the latest to be filed after laborious study and translation of ancient texts such as the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, the Shiva Samhita and the Bhagavad Gita. The poses were eventually identified as ancient knowledge, and therefore not able to be patented.

“We are now videographing the yoga poses, and in coming months we’ll integrate these into the TKDL,” says Mr Gupta.

“Our objective is not to take out patents over these, but rather, to stop wrong patents.”

Specifically, he is talking about the founder of the Bikram form of yoga’s move eight years ago to take out US copyright [or patents] over a number of poses.

“I think it is obligatory on the international patent systems to look back and see where they’ve made an error and try to rectify that,” he says.

“The postures and positions in Bikram yoga, if they’re defined in ancient texts, how can anyone claim the right to them?”

While the TKDL’s most well-known subject of protection is yoga, it was originally designed to catalogue ancient Indian medicinal remedies contained within three systems: Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. The texts have been laboriously translated from their original languages of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Tamil and Urdu and the knowledge will be available in English, German, French, Chinese and Japanese, to make the information freely available to patent offices around the world.

“This library is about ensuring people do not take personal right over public knowledge,” says Mr Gupta.

“They should not be able to make money where they are not entitled to it.”

Aarti Betigeri is a regular contributor to Monocle, based in New Delhi

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Click here to read more, or here to subscribe to the monthly magazine.

Image by


Japanese Face Wash Creates A Perfect Rose Every Time

Arts & Culture
Mobile Yesterday

Get A Better Idea Of How You Are Wasting Your Time

The TouchTime app is trying to revolutionize personal task management by providing detailed insight on how to be more efficient

Culture Yesterday

London Telephone Box Repurposed As A Tiny Mobile Repair Shop

Tools and supplies to replace broken screens or damage are neatly stowed away in these micro-workrooms


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Design Yesterday

Conceptual Sportswear Created Out Of Futuristic Condom Material

A Dutch fashion designer is experimenting with new methods and fabrics to make high performance clothing

Fashion Yesterday

Fashionable Tassel Will Ensure You Never Lose Your Valuables Again

The device is fashion meets connected tech, that will help you keep track of your belongings at all times

Syndicated Yesterday

Would You Wear Wool Shoes To Save The Environment?

As demand for wool shoes grows, a number of US footwear brands are heading directly to the source: the sheep pastures of New Zealand

Sustainability Yesterday

Self-Healing Material Is Fashioned Out Of Squid Teeth

Penn State researchers have devised a new textile that uses organic proteins

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Search Engine Turns Your Own Drawings Into Photos

This image-matching software accepts hand-made sketches instead of keywords


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs august 25, 2016

PSFK’s Workplace Vision: How The Nurturing Of Seeds Will Come To Define The Onboarding Process

Our Future of Work vision is a service that allows companies to assemble and deliver welcome packets that are uniquely focused on the concept of growth

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Illustrator Interprets The Experiences Of Blind Travelers

Artist Alby Letoy creates drawings of poignant travel memories for the visually impaired

Advertising Yesterday

Clickbait Titles Used For The Good Of Charity

An agency devised an unlikely campaign that uses clickbait as a positive force to drive awareness to nonprofit initiatives

Advertising Yesterday

The Best In Eye-Catching Olympics Campaigns

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the best advertising moments off the field

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Transforming Light Waves Into A New Art Form

An artist uses glass treated with layers of metallic coatings to create a unique installation called lightpaintings


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Design Yesterday

This Windbreaker Lets You Explore The Outdoors While Charging Your Phone

The apparel includes solar panels that allow the wearer to stay connected through the power of renewable energy

Asia Yesterday

The Goal Of This Game Is To Not Get Laid Off From Your Job

A hit mobile app has you working really, really hard to not get fired as you climb the corporate ladder

Advertising Yesterday

Movie Critic Bot Guides Viewers Through Festival Offerings

The Toronto International Film Festival has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help attendants curate their schedule

No search results found.