YogaGlo Forfeits Its Patent. What Comes Next?

On October 27, 2014, online yoga video service YogaGlo announced its decision to forfeit the patent issued for its mode of filming yoga videos.

The decision came seemingly out of the blue, leading many to wonder what lies behind the decision. Does this really mark the end of the story, or simply the beginning of a new chapter? In this article we update you on the developments since the YogaGlo patent was issued in December 2013, and speculate on what might come next.

When YogaGlo first declared its intention to patent its way of filming yoga videos about a year ago, it evoked widespread controversy in the yoga community.  It didn’t help that the patent application—even before it was approved—was accompanied by cease and desist letters sent to other yoga websites with online practices, which, according to YogaGlo lawyers, resembled the YogaGlo system of recording online yoga classes in a live classroom setting.

Among the recipients of the cease and desist letter was the Himalaya Institute’s Yoga International, which had created a number of videos with a set-up similar to the YogaGlo class format: A class of students filmed from a camera at the back of the room with the teacher visible through an unobstructed view through a wide center aisle.

Upon receiving the cease and desist letter, the Himalaya Institute’s editorial department took its case to the court of public opinion, and not surprisingly, quickly garnered widespread support across the blogosphere. For many, the patent application symbolized everything that’s wrong with the increasing commercialization of modern yoga, and was viewed as a step even further away from the kind of guiding values we’d like to think prevail in the yoga community. Also of great concern was the notion that something as obvious and common as the filming of a yoga class could be standardized and patented.

Shortly after the announcement, Yoga Alliance decided to get involved in the controversy, creating an online petition urging YogaGlo to withdraw the patent request, which eventually got more than 14,000 signatures.  Nonetheless, Yogaglo proceeded, and on December 10th of last year, YogaGlo’s patent (U.S. Patent No.8,605,152) was granted. Yoga International took down the videos, which supposedly violated the patent, and changed the format with which they were filming videos.

Then, out of the blue on October 27, YogaGlo announced that it had forfeited the issued patent in response to concerns raised “about how broad the patent seems to be and that it may prevent filming in general.” On October 31, the company officially filed a request with the PTO to disclaim its patent.

The YogaGlo announcement about the forfeiture came a few days before the nonprofit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), named the patent as ¨October’s Very Bad, No Good, Totally Stupid Patent.”

Even though the patent had been withdrawn, the EFF went ahead with the story, stating that “Despite our familiarity with absurd patents and our concerns about cursory review at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), we were still surprised that this one was issued. It seemed the so-called ‘invention’ wasn’t the kind of thing that should be patented at all—or at the very least, was not something novel or nonobvious.”

Why Did YogaGlo Give Up the Patent?

If you are curious about why YogaGlo decided to forfeit the patent less than a year after it was issued, you are not alone. The company spent tens of thousands of dollars on the patent process, and stuck to their guns during the uproar that followed when the patent was announced. So why give it up, and why now? There are likely several factors involved, and one can only speculate on a few.

The EFF, in its blog post, points to the yoga community’s willingness to speak out and take action against the patent. This may well have been one important factor in the decision.

Another reason may have been the growing realization that the patent would have been very difficult to enforce—in other words, worthless. After the patent was issued, Yoga Alliance compiled a Citation of Prior Art with examples of similar systems that were either claimed in other patent applications or that were in public circulation at least a year before the YogaGlo patent was filed.

“We believe these examples of prior art would have invalidated YogaGlo’s now-forfeited patent,” Yoga Alliance commented in a blog post about the patent forfeiture. The internet was replete with legal firms analyzing the patent and proposing a legal strategy to fight it, presumably in an effort to be retained in the case of future legal battles.

Following the YogaGlo announcement, Yoga Alliance applauded the company’s decision to give up the patent, stating in a blog post that, “This is great news for the yoga community and for yoga practitioners everywhere, because it means that individuals and organizations are now free to use any system and method of recording a live yoga class without fear of reprisal.”

Still, uncertainties remain about what’s really behind the move. In announcing their decision, YogaGlo founder Derek Mills wrote, “On balance, the majority of the concern [about the patent] is about how broad the patent seems to be and that it may prevent filming in general. In an effort to remove confusion and concern within the yoga community and beyond, we have decided to focus our efforts on narrowing our protections. To begin this process in earnest, we have decided to forfeit the issued patent” (emphasis added).

Mills is mum on what exactly is meant by ‘narrowing our protections’, but continues: “We still believe the look and feel of our classes are unique to YogaGlo and have become associated with high quality teaching,” Mills writes. “We will continue to protect that just as we would protect our logo or our name.”

So what exactly is the YogaGlo look and feel? A class of students filmed from the back with the teacher in front as the image of Patthabi Jois teaching a class? Or, a frontal view with a central camera, which—incidentally—happens to also be the best way to film a yoga class to capture correct alignment, as evidenced in the Youtube video above? 

Hopefully, the YogaGlo decision to forfeit the patent marks the end of the road.  But whether there’s the second shoe to drop remains to be seen.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

The underlying question in this discussion is really about the nature of competition as it interacts with the yogic values one might hope companies that are a part of the yoga community would strive to stand for.

There are two kinds of competition: Bad competition and good competition. Bad competition is based on a sense of scarcity and limited resources. Good competition, on the other hand, is based on constant renewal, innovation, and creativity, leading to a progressive growth of the services in the market.

Good competition, one could say, is like infill development in a city—while there are plenty of houses already, infill developers will find new, overlooked areas to build on and fill out. This is the equivalent of taking advantage of the unfilled niches that exist in all markets by innovating and improving existing services.

A case in point? YogaGlo itself. YogaGlo essentially copied the business model for online video subscription services first introduced by MyYogaOnline, improved it and developed it further by focusing exclusively on some of the highest caliber teachers around. As a result, it has brought the world of online yoga a huge step forward, and offered a great service to the yoga community.

In the world of good competition—there is no shortage of resources. Bad competition, on the other hand, instead of innovating and filling new niches, simply engages in a fight to control and dominate what is perceived as a limited market and limited resources.

As the old adage goes, a rising tide lifts all ships. There may be many online yoga video sites, but there are, equally, also many types of yoga audiences.  Creativity and competitive forces will eventually unite to create more and more opportunity for the many diverse niches within the world of yoga.

So, is there a second shoe waiting to drop? Let’s hope not. YogaGlo has a solidly established position in the market place, and it’s hard to think of anything that could conceivably hurt that position. Except of course, from the self-induced destruction of brand image that would come from turning to a business paradigm that is the antithesis of the values the yoga community holds dear. 

Editor's Picks