What is a Trademark?
There is a lot of confusion around this question within the sannyas community. This confusion has been created partly because of various claims being made about what a trademark is and what it does. The truth is that very few people, even many attorneys, really understand exactly what a trademark is, how it works, and how someone comes to own the right to use one, so it’s very easy for people to be confused and misled. Let us understand this issue by finding answers to some basic questions, which are as follows.
How is a Trademark defined and explained?
* A trademark is valid only if the owner has the exclusive right to use the mark for certain goods and services in the marketplace.
What a Trademark is not?
* If other people have equal rights to use the word, symbol, or image, then the word, symbol, or image cannot be a trademark. The reason for this is that if several people have a right to use it, the word, symbol, or image can’t tell the public that the goods or services meet the quality standards of a single source. A trademark is not primarily a property right of a company.
What a Trademark is?
* The very purpose of a trademark is first and foremost to protect the public’s right to know about quality. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or image that is used in marketing a product or service. The mark has to identify the product or service as coming from a single source. Also, ownership of a trademark does not give ownership of the content of the product or service.
Can the word Osho be used as a Trademark?
* Osho can only be a trademark if one legal entity (person or company) has the legal right to control all goods and services related to Osho’s teachings so that whenever the public sees “Osho” connected to goods or services it will know that the goods or services come from a single source and that that single source guarantees a certain quality.
* However, that source can’t be Osho, since many other people besides Osho have long been involved in creating goods and services related to His work. Also, Osho never assigned His rights to anyone else, so if Osho is the source, no one owns the trademark.
What is being claimed under Osho as a Trademark?
* Books and audio and video recordings. Also, all the activities of Osho centers. These include meditation classes, sessions, and events; celebration events; music events; groups; sessions; bodywork; restaurants; books about Osho; newspapers; magazines; and any other business activities carried on under the name of Osho. We are also talking about all activities of individuals including classes, sessions, performances, seminars, groups, CDs, videos, books, and so on that are marketed using the name Osho.
Who is claiming Osho as a Trademark?
* The entity that is claiming to own the trademark for Osho (in most of the world) is Osho International Foundation (OIF), a small group legally based in Zurich, Switzerland, though OIF has only a mail-drop address there. No meditation activities are conducted by OIF in Zurich.
Is the claiming of Osho as a Trademark by OIF valid?
* In order for OIF, Zurich to own the trademark it has to claim that it is the source of all goods and services connected to Osho’s work and that it legally controls all the goods and services produced by Osho centers and individuals using “Osho.”
* OIF has to claim to legally control every aspect of work done using Osho’s name. To own the trademark for Osho, OIF would have to be able to guarantee to the public that all these goods and services meet a certain quality.
* If OIF cannot legally control all Osho centers and individuals using Osho, if OIF is not the source of the goods and services produced by the centers and individuals, and if OIF cannot guarantee the quality of all the goods and services of the Osho centers and individuals, then Osho cannot be a trademark for OIF.
* If the centers and individuals are independent and produce their own goods and services, then Osho is a term indicating a connection to the man Osho, but it can never be a trademark for any one company or person.
* By filing to register a trademark OIF doesn’t get ownership of the goods and services created by centers or individuals. The centers and individuals own what they have created and would have to assign their rights to OIF before OIF could legally control them. OIF is essentially demanding that the centers do that, or, to be exact, is claiming the centers have already done that.
Why and for what purpose essentially is Osho being claimed as a Trademark?
* The issue of Osho as a trademark is essentially about control of or independence of the Osho centers and individuals.
Was Osho ever in favour of exercising such control?
* The idea of having Osho’s work tightly controlled as a form of commercialism is, no doubt, some people’s idea of safety, but it certainly isn’t Osho’s.
* In light of Osho’s teachings, such centralized control would mean that a “mother church” exists that strictly controls all of the work around Osho’s teachings, that a mother church dictates dogma and doctrine, that a mother church interprets Osho’s teachings in terms of purity. Licensed centers would not be allowed to produce any product or service without receiving permission from OIF and having the service or product approved for “purity.”
How would it help or hurt if centers follow OIF?
* As long as some centres and individual are willing to stand up to OIF and insist on being independent, as Osho has asked them to be, OIF is not likely to prevail in claiming to own exclusive rights to use Osho as a trademark. Even if OIF owned a trademark, centres that choose to can remain independent.
* The danger is that those centres that cooperate with OIF and support OIF’s claim to own a trademark, or that don’t object when they’re informed of what OIF is claiming, will end up legally and financially controlled by OIF. The centres that stand up to OIF can remain independent.
* The choice of whether to agree to be legally and financially controlled by OIF is up to each centre.
What are Osho’s guidelines? How did He see His words and meditations reach people?
* Here are Osho’s own words giving a clear message:
“I cannot see you dependent. I cannot see you being harassed, tortured, ordered, made to obey—no. Hence, I say to you: My way of life is not a religion. It is certainly a kind of religiousness. To be religious without being attached to a religion is the most beautiful experience of life. Then religiousness is a quality, not a faith”.
“The world headquarters will be publishing my books, will be releasing my tapes, videotapes, will be doing every kind of work. But it has no domination over anybody. All communes of the world are independent. All centers of the world are absolutely free. They are under nobody’s guidance. My sannyasins are directly related to me. The world headquarters will simply function so that you can have a connection with me. Otherwise you don’t have any place to whom to ask where I am, what is happening to me. The world headquarters is not in any way a power over any sannyasin, over any other sannyas centers, ashramas, communes. It has nothing to do with that. It is my secretariat. And its function is to convey to me messages of importance and to convey to the sannyasins my messages of any importance to anybody. It is not an organization. It is not a structure. It is simply a functional office”.
The Last Testament, Vol. 5, Chapter 12
Why a Trademark?
Would a Trademark really “protect” Osho’s work?
* The answer is no. A trademark is a right to use a word, phrase, symbol, or image in marketing. It has nothing to do with the content of the product or service being marketed. A trademark holder has to own the product or service being marketed before a trademark can be applied to the product or service in the marketplace. A trademark doesn’t give anyone ownership rights in any product or service the trademark holder doesn’t already own.
Can Osho’s meditation techniques be protected by a Trademark?
* A trademark would have nothing to do with controlling how the meditation techniques are used either. Vatayana sent out an email to centers a few months ago that was very misleading. She said that trademarks were needed to keep the meditations “24 karat.” This makes no sense at all.
* Osho knowingly and willingly put His meditation techniques in the public domain decades ago by not only allowing, but encouraging, people to use His techniques and to teach them to others.
* Osho wanted the techniques made available to as many people as possible, and Osho’s people took those techniques and spread them around the world. Because Osho chose to do that with His own techniques, they became essentially public property long ago. OIF doesn’t own Osho’s meditation techniques, and the US Patent and Trademark Office know this.
Can anyone protect Osho’s meditation techniques?
* No one can “protect” Osho’s meditation techniques at this late date, because no one owns them. Osho, by His own choice, gave them away. You might say He released them to Existence. He obviously trusted that the techniques need no protection in the form of legal control, because He did everything to make sure that it never happened.
* The meditation techniques have been in the public domain since 30–40 years by now, and there’s no way for anyone to take legal ownership of those techniques away from the public.
* Trademarks for the names of the techniques would not allow OIF to control how anyone uses those techniques. So if any centre has the idea that it could sacrifice its independence and autonomy for the sake of protecting Osho’s meditation techniques, that effort would be entirely in vain.
Is copyright different from Trademark?
* The content of books and recordings, for example, are protected by copyrights, which are a very different kind of intellectual property right. If someone was claiming Osho’s writings as his own or misusing recordings, this would be a copyright issue. Owning a trademark would have nothing to do with how the content of Osho’s work is used.
Can a Trademark holder prevent people from talking about Him or writing about Him?
* Absolutely not. A trademark that consists of the name (or in this case pseudonym) of a historical person has nothing whatsoever to do with control of the historical person or his/her estate or reputation. A trademark for “Osho” is not about the person Osho. A trademark for “Osho” wouldn’t give the trademark holder any rights over Osho the person at all.
* All countries where Osho trademarks have been claimed have laws protecting the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Journalists, writers, publishers, and other commentators can say what they like about people as long as they don’t violate the laws of slander, liable, and defamation.
* Trademark laws are never used to limit freedom of the press or freedom of speech. In modern culture, if we don’t like what someone says we have the right to reply and debate. We don’t have the power to stifle the opinions of others. This isn’t what trademarks are about.