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December 16, 2013

Yoga Alliance CEO Richard Karpel Answers Hard-Hitting Questions About YogaGlo Patent Controversy.

Relephant reads:

That Infamous YogaGlo Cease & Desist Letter: Real or Not Real?

The yoga community has been in an uproar ever since the YogaGlo patent controversy first made headlines.

However, not all of the negative feedback and hard-hitting questions have been directed at YogaGlo and its founder Derik Mills.

As a regular writer and blogger on the yoga scene, I have more and more frequently been asked questions by those who are suspicious about the role—and the intention—behind Yoga Alliance’s firm stance against the patent.

I contacted YA and was informed that its ever-communicative president and CEO Richard Karpel (he’s even posted an open letter on elephant journal) was indeed more than happy to speak with me personally to answer any of these queries.

I should also offer straight-away that I’m a member of Yoga Alliance (and that I’m a satisfied insurance carrier through them as well). Moreover, I’ve written articles that convey my skepticism of both this patent and its need—and my concerns that this might not serve the general yoga community’s best interests.

That said, I can be just as cynical and critical as the next journalist and I wanted to go straight to the appropriate source to have these questions answered.

I spoke with Karpel via a phone interview on Sunday, December 15. Let me share some of that conversation’s highlights.

Question 1.

Yoga Alliance initially claimed that YogaGlo would not get the patent and they did. Now, YA is saying that this approved patent is unenforceable. If the patent is unenforceable then why should it be a concern for the yoga community?

Richard Karpel: “I never said that the patent wouldn’t get approved. How would I know that? What I have said is that something like this shouldn’t be patented, and everyone in the yoga community is reacting this way.

[The larger issue is that] patent laws are screwed up. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties agree with this. There aren’t many issues with bipartisan support and the patent laws are one of them…A lot of bad patents get approved.”

(Karpel then refers me to this Washington Post article that brought up the absurdity of the patent process, which uses YogaGlo as an example.) 

Question 2.

If the patent is unenforceable then shouldn’t it be a non-issue for the community? Why take this anti-patent stance?

RK: “Because people have to know that [it’s unenforceable]; that it costs money to have a patent attorney. That attorney has to search below the surface to investigate and prove what we’ve already heard through the yoga community [that this patent is likely unenforceable].” (Read this for Karpel’s more detailed explanation.) 

“This is a public policy issue that we think is important.”

Karpel and I further discuss the potentially extravagant fees that small business owners would have to pay to stay within the patent restrictions and that Yoga Alliance is seeking to support the community as a whole by taking this anti-patent stance.

Question 3.

YA has been striving to meet member requests for more benefits. In doing this, YA is working with 3rd party companies so that members can now receive discounts on various services and products from car rentals to yoga-related merchandise. In offering these perks, YA either receives a commission based on these member sales or the 3rd party pays YA to advertise (or both).

If some of these 3rd parties are online video companies, does this make YA unfairly compromised regarding this YogaGlo patent concern?

RK: “No, I don’t think so.

People have been saying that they want member benefits and insurance, which we now provide. Yes, this means that Yoga Alliance does get revenue, but that revenue doesn’t even come close to creating the infrastructure necessary to support these member benefits. [This revenue is put towards ]marketing and communication—to be able to describe these benefits to our members—to help support this infrastructure. We’ve been transparent on this.

Go to our website and you’ll find this explained in detail in the ‘business partners’ section.” 

Question 4.

Along these lines of “compromised,” YA’s board includes members of Yoga Works, which is currently in litigation with Fresh Eyes Productions (My Yoga Online) over IP (intellectual property) claims. Why is YA speaking out against YogaGlo’s patent but not this?

RK: “This is the first that I’ve heard of that. I wasn’t aware of that lawsuit. [Regardless,] we don’t get involved in private disputes, and that is clearly a private dispute.

The YogaGlo patent affects everyone and 99.9 percent of the yoga community is opposed to this patent. This is an obvious distraction from the real concern.

I’d also like to say that I see people on the “anti-YogaGlo” side trying to accuse the company of having certain motives and I don’t want to do that either…I’ve heard—through people I trust—that the people at YogaGlo are good people, but I think they’ve made a mistake [with this patent] and I’m trying to prevent that mistake.”

Question 5.

Many have interpreted Derik Mills response blog, where he states that “to clarify…we have not sued anyone or filed a lawsuit,” to mean that there haven’t actually been any cease and desist letters. Yoga International, however, reported the arrival of this cease and desist letter (via FedEx) in its now famous blog.

Can you comment on the concern that no one has apparently seen this letter?

RK: “Have you asked Yoga International for the letter? I’m thinking that if you do, they’ll give you a copy.”

(Side note: this request is pending and if such a letter is received, I’ll update this within the article.)

“Aside from that, what you want to call the letter—whether it’s a ‘firm letter’ or a ‘cease and desist letter’ is [semantics].

How do you enforce a patent? You don’t want to go to court, you want them to listen to your cease and desist letter [because of litigation fees, etc]. This is the logical end of having a patent approved.”

During this interview, Karpel said that Yoga Alliance is following this patent process and trying its best to help the community better understand what it all means for them.

However, he offers that when all is said and done, he thinks everyone will welcome moving forward.

“Hopefully we’ll all go back to our lives, and YogaGlo will go back to making videos and Yoga Alliance will continue with its mission to serve the yoga community.”

Thanks to Richard for being a wonderful example of how open dialogue and communication supports and furthers our closely-knit yoga community.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Courtesy of Author

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