In an an op-ed piece in the New York Times, A Big Stretch, the Indian writer Suketu Mehta explains why his fellow Indians are upset by the appropriation of Indian knowledge through U.S. patents and other niceties of intellectual property rights:
Knowledge in ancient India was protected by caste lines, not legal or economic ones. The term ‘intellectual property’ was an oxymoron: the intellect could not be anybody’s property. You did not pay your guru in coin; you herded his cows and married his daughter, and passed on the knowledge to others when you were sufficiently steeped in it. This tradition continues today, most notably in Indian classical music, none of whose melodies have been copyrighted.
Yoga is one of those ancient knowledge systems that is finding its way into the dispute. Mehta writes, “The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks.” What’s more, the U.S. capitalist market and the American spiritual demi-urge are transforming yoga in ways that Krishnamacharya could never have dreamed of.