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


Brand Engagement At The Gates Of The World's Largest Open-Air Gallery

Asia Today

Safe Drivers Rewarded In Japan With Free Coffee

Driving Barista is a new app that encourages Japanese motorists to put their phones down as they drive

Arts & Culture Today

Michael Kors Has Designed Their Own Instant Camera

In a partnership with Fuji, the limited edition Instax Mini 70 comes in an exclusive metallic gold color


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Health Today

Manage Your Emotional Health Through Your Phone

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has created a new iOS app meant to help patients track mental progress and set goals

Food Today

Delete Food Pics Off Of Instagram To Feed The Hungry

Land O'Lakes and Feeding America are donating meals for every picture of a meal taken off of the social platform

Related Expert

Nobumichi Asai

Facehacker, Projection Mapper

Design & Architecture Today

This Shape-Shifting Pod Could Be The Future Of The Cubicle

MIT and Google have designed a new form of work enclosure meant to offer privacy in open-office layouts

Advertising Today

Billboard Spies On People As They Walk By

To promote the movie "Snowden," the advertisement broadcasts information on passersby without their knowledge

Fashion Today

Anti-Pollution Scarf Helps Cyclists Ride Through Cities

An innovative system filters pollutants and its accompanying app monitors quality of the air


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Today

Energy Expert: How American Consumers Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Jennifer Tuohy, green tech expert at The Home Depot, discusses green home technologies and developments for renewable technologies in US homes

PSFK Labs Today

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Automotive Today

Volvo’s Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Put To Work In An Underground Mine

The fully-automated vehicles are part of a development project to help improve safety for workers

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Today

Mischievous Drone Will Drop Paint-Filled Balloons On Targets Of Your Choosing

A German photography team developed the flying device to accurately deliver a payload wherever needed

Retail Today

Snapchat Reveals A Striking Pair Of Video-Recording Sunglasses

Spectacles make memories from your perspective and transfer them to the app


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Financial Services Today

This Peer-To-Peer Insurance Company Is Powered By Bots

Lemonade is a new product designed to lighten the paperwork and provide instant, helpful service when needed

Design Today

Concept Artists And Scientists Form Partnership To Visualize The Future

The collaboration hopes to liberate ideas and innovations trapped in notebooks

Automotive Today

Uber Could Be Bringing Vertical Takeoff Transport To Your City

The ridesharing app is looking into the development of nimble aircraft for urban environments

No search results found.