Patent issued for filming a yoga class

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The patent issued to an outfit called YogaGlo covers methods – a term used loosely here – for filming a yoga class and transmitting those images over the Internet.

The patent is so mindbogglingly ridiculous that two things have happened: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has bestowed upon it the organization’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” award; and, remarkably, the patent holder a few days ago announced that it has “decided to forfeit the issued patent.” (Read the announcement though and it’s clear YogaGlo hasn’t given up on the patent hunt altogether.)

As the EFF notes, the fact that YogaGlo says it will renounce the patent doesn’t make this tale any less instructive in terms of demonstrating the extent to which this country’s patent system is broken.

The EFF report is long and gets into the nitty-gritty of patent law. Essentially, it would appear as though YogaGlo received its patent because it wouldn’t take no for answer and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just wanted to rid itself of a persistent pest. Not that prior art should have been necessary to send this applicant packing, but there was plenty, including some created and made public by YogaGlo that in and of itself should have been disqualifying.

From the EFF report:

YogaGlo’s patent never should have been filed, and never should have issued. Even more importantly, hopeful patentees should not be incentivized to continue to push for patents despite clear evidence showing the claims are invalid.

In the broader view, it seems unlikely that patents are needed in order to incentivize people to develop new systems and methods for filming. Hollywood has existed for many generations without every director rushing out to patent new styles and angles of filming. Most likely, this is because patenting a new way of filming just doesn’t seem like something that patents were meant to protect, and nor are they needed in order to encourage the next Stanley Kubrick. And YogaGlo seems to acknowledge this: their own statement says they wanted to protect the “look and feel” of their videos. This is not something our patent system was designed to protect. But our culture of overclaiming of intellectual property rights likely encouraged YogaGlo to file for a patent and incentivized YogaGlo to seek it at all costs—including honesty. We don’t know why YogaGlo’s decided to not disclose its own videos, but its failure to do so seems questionable (at best). We asked YogaGlo’s lawyer for comment, but he declined.

The PTO relies on applicant disclosures, and should be able to, but in this case, it is clear that such reliance was misplaced. And what is also clear is that an incentive exists to not disclose. The fee worksheet in the file history for the ‘569 patent application shows that YogaGlo paid $663 when it filed its application. After paying a few more thousand in fees during the pendency of the application, YogaGlo got an almost twenty-year monopoly on its systems and methods for filming a yoga class.

As noted above, YogaGlo has not entirely abandoned its quest to convince the government that it has reinvented the wheel.

“We still believe the look and feel of our classes are unique to YogaGlo and have become associated with high quality teaching,” writes founder Derik Mills. “We will continue to protect that just as we would protect our logo or our name.”

 That may seem like a stretch, but the history of the USPTO ineptitude is on his side.

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