War of words: Whose Vastu is it, anyway?

The Times of India, Dec. 28, 2003
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
SANGHAMITRA CHAKRABORTY

NEW DELHI: If you thought the term Vastu is as Indian as yoga, ayurveda, or kama sutra listen to this: A German organisation called Samhita — run by the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — has gone and registered it as its trademark before anyone in India even thought about it. Agitated Indian Vastu professionals are now considering taking up this issue with the government and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), to prevent such appropriation of patently Indian concepts.

The information travelled to India recently with German Vastu expert Marcus Schimieke who is collaborating with Ashwinie Bansal, director of the Delhi-based Vastu Shastra Institute. Schimieke wrote a book titled ‘Vastu — the Indian Origin of Feng Shui’ in 1998, for which he was served a legal notice by Samhita.

Says Schimieke: “Samhita has been claiming that Vastu is a word that belongs to a dead language (Sanskrit) and hence does not belong to any particular culture.” The German physicist-cum-Vastu expert had to withdraw every copy of his book from the market. Both Schimieke and Samhita run academies which offer Vastu courses to hundreds of curious westerners.

Says Bansal, who practices international law and has been appointed to WIPO as an arbitrator: “Along with some legal NGOs, I am evaluating the costs and procedures of challenging Samhita and cancelling its registration. I will shortly take up the issue with the Union Ministry of Commerce and the WIPO, the need of the hour is to set up a vigilance mechanism, so that any such registration can be tracked.”

A comparable case is the registration of the terms “siddhi” and “yoga” as a trademark in the UK and the U.S. However, it was not possible for it to be registered in India as it was part of traditional knowledge.

Says James Nedumpara, a legal expert in international trade issues: “Appropriation of traditional knowledge (TK) is a serious issue — the repeated incidents of such patent grants would highlight the need for the development of database on traditional knowledge by bodies such as the WIPO or the WTO. If there is reasonable information to believe that the present case involved an appropriation of TK, this issue could be compared with what happened in the case of basmati, turmeric or karela.”

Tamali Sengupta, an expert in international corporate law concludes: “It is unlikely the German organisation will take legal action against an Indian firm using the term Vastu as there are any number of books titles or names of using the term Vastu prior to 1998.” Sengupta says the Indian group in this case can move for a revocation procedure for Vastu under the German law and reclaim it.
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