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

Via Jennifer S. White
on Dec 15, 2013
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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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About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


6 Responses to “Yoga Alliance CEO Richard Karpel Answers Hard-Hitting Questions About YogaGlo Patent Controversy.”

  1. Julie says:

    I'm tired of Richard Karpel using phrases like "everyone in the yoga community" and "99.9% of the yoga community" when discussing this issue. Quite frankly, most of the people in my yoga community have never heard of YogaGlo, Yoga Alliance, or Yoga International. They go to their local studio 1 or 2 times a week, and this issue is not on their radar. It is, however, on the radar of people who like to use Facebook to say things like "go fuck yourself" instead of posting something useful. It is on the radar of people who think that an online yoga petition will result in something useful.

    Here's a wild thought – there are many yogi entrepreneurs out there who are probably chomping at the bit to start an online yoga video service but have no expertise in online delivery systems or all of the other technology involved. Many people would gladly pay a licensing fee to have all of that work done for them so that they can continue to focus their expertise on what they do best (in this case, teaching yoga). Patents are usually obtained to make money. Most people aren't applying for patents to get a monopoly in a certain market. If this is the road YogaGlo is heading down, sounds like there would be even more opportunity to spread yoga than before.

  2. Your comment is clearly filled with emotion, like anger, and I'm not sure I want to reply to this at the moment, but I would like to say this: I find it hard to believe that people in your community have largely not heard of Yoga Alliance, because, like it or not, being an RYT is still very much an accredited position to hold as a teacher. Further, nearly all of the studios that I've ever worked for (especially with the spread of yoga and the high volume of yoga teachers) *require* their instructors to be RYTs (which, if you're not aware, is through Yoga Alliance).

  3. Dana says:

    @Jennifer and Julie – The issue doesn't seem to be whether anyone is aware of any of these organizations. That's not the point. What we know is that company X has successfully obtained a patent on a pretty broad set of parameters for how you can setup a yoga class and film it. Organizations Y and Z seem to be against the patent on the grounds that it isn't novel and is very general ( which have both become big problems in the patent industry.)

    So to Julie's point, there may be a few people who would prefer to pay a licensing fee to YogaGlo in order to have the right to setup an aisle and a camera in their yoga class. But my feeling as a teacher is that most of us would rather not. And the thought of having to do so definitely pisses people off. Julie, I'm sorry that people are attacking you and/or the teachers at YogaGlo. That isn't right. There's always a better way to express yourself, even when you are passionate about an issue.

  4. Julie says:

    If the yoga community is defined as teachers only, then sure, many of them have heard of Yoga Alliance. I'm talking about students in general.

    I do have emotion tied to this story, especially when someone is trying to lump me into the "99.9% category."

    I enjoyed your article and I'm so glad that someone took the time to dig deeper into this story rather than just speculate.

  5. Richard Karpel says:

    Julie, when I refer to the "yoga community," I'm talking about the 43,000+ yoga teachers and 2,900+ teacher-training programs who are registered with us. Hope that clears up the misunderstanding.

    Richard Karpel
    President and CEO
    Yoga Alliance
    1701 Clarendon Blvd., Ste. 100
    Arlington, VA 22209
    Phone: 571-482-3350
    Twitter: @rkarpel

  6. Thank you because that's my intention. I have another interview going up shortly and I honestly feel that I've been one of the few journalists who are attempting to objectively cover this issue and directly communicate with the parties involved rather than spreading conjecture and opinion.

    Lastly, it should be noted that it's generally going to be teachers and class providers who are affected by this patent. If you're interested in this subject then do make sure to click on the red-highlighted Washington Post link—the business, IT and political communities are using our yoga community as an example of our horrible patent laws.

    Thanks for your comments and please look for that next article as I welcome thoughts and communication (and additional questions).