Osho: Can the name of an India-born spiritual guru become a European trademark?

Osho: Can the name of an India-born spiritual guru become a European trademark?

Remember the patent and trademark battles that India fought in the United States over basmati and turmeric?

One intense battle of similar vintage that no one outside the Osho community really cared about was over the rights to trademark Osho in the European Union. Can the name of an India-born spiritual guru become a European trademark?

On October 11, the General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg delivered a judgment upholding the ownership of the OSHO trademark by Osho International Foundation (OIF), an organisation under Swiss law, headquartered in Zurich.

The court dismissed the petition by Osho Lotus Commune, Cologne, against the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) on the trademark case.

The Cologne commune led by Osho’s German follower Ramateertha, or Robert Doetsch, had bitterly contested OIF’s claim to the OSHO trademark for more than 17 years.

The mysterious Canada-born real estate broker, businessman and Osho follower Michael Byrne, called Swami Anand Jayesh by the community, and Osho’s British-born personal physician John Andrews, or Swami Prem Amrito, have been at the helm of the OIF for more than 30 years.

Ever since he rose to the top in the Osho hierarchy in the late 1980s, Jayesh has remained hidden from national and international media glare.

The European Court ruling said: “Even if the term ‘Osho’ in 1999 referred to the name of a person and to his teachings, he could also be associated with a spiritual movement, which several centers in Europe, especially in Germany, were calling to … Furthermore, the comparison of the word ‘Osho’ with the names of Buddha or Confucius or Pilates, which the applicant claims could not be registered as a trademark, is irrelevant.”

Commenting on the judgment, Ramateertha recalled in a recent online article that on December 13 last year, the OIF lawyer said in court that “Osho has nothing to do with meditation – it is a brand”

He regretted that “the court has now decided in favour of this interpretation”.

In Pune, a jubilant Amrit Sadhana from the Press and Media office of the Osho International Meditation Resort, Koregaon Park, issued a statement that OIF “has successfully defended its ownership of the mark for all Osho Meditation Centres, publishers, entities and individuals involved in supporting Osho’s proposal and vision.”

The OIF emphasised that it is the “sole and registered owner of copyrights to all the published and unpublished words, literary works and other creations of Osho in all mediums, including audio recordings and video”.

That includes 6,500 audio discourses, 1,870 video recordings, 600 book titles and a slew of meditation techniques and music.

So how did this Indian guru turn into a European brand? Born as Chandra Mohan Jain on December 11, 1931 in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuchwada village, Osho was first known by his nickname Rajneesh.

A captivating orator, with powerful, piercing eyes, this assistant professor of philosophy at Jabalpur University spoke fearlessly and irreverently about the exploitative nature of religion and society.

Alongside, he delivered insightful commentaries on aspects of not just Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainisim, but other world religions too.

Known initially as the itinerant monk Acharya Shree Rajneesh who delivered talks in poetic Hindi during the 1960s in northern and western India, he sparked a controversy with his provocative three-part public talk, Sambhog Se Samadhi Ki Aur (From sex towards super-consciousness) in Mumbai, then Bombay.

The first talk was delivered at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium in August 1968 and after a sharp public reaction for mixing sex with Indian spirituality, Rajneesh could not deliver the remaining two parts. He did that a month later at Gowalia Tank Maidan in the city.

This was the point when he earned the nickname “sex guru” and began attracting dollar-powered Westerners by the droves.

Soon he came to be known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh — the rich man’s guru. And he headlined through his massive commune in Oregon in the mid-1980s, with 90-plus Rolls Royce cars, diamond-encrusted watches, Gucci shades, and flowing, messiah-style gowns.

A coterie of followers named him Osho just a year before his death. He died in suspicious circumstances in Pune on January 19, 1990. He was 58.

Within India, the OIF does not exercise strict control over the OSHO trademark and copyrights that it owns on the guru’s meditations, talks and audio-video discourses. The small band of Indian and Western trustees of OIF who control valuable real estate in Pune and Mumbai prefer not to provoke any controversy in India.

Outside India, especially in Europe, the OIF has been known to use its legal might to prevent anyone from using OSHO without paying licence fees and royalty.

FACTS: ONGOING CASES IN BOMBAY HIGH COURT

  • Criminal Writ Petition No. 2150 of 2016 and 1572/2017 relating to Osho’s forged will case and alleged transfer of “huge amounts from the Osho Ashram to foreign entities in violation of law”.
  • On August 12, justice Naresh H Patil and justice Prakash D Naik directed that the RBI and the Enforcement Directorate be made respondents in the case.
  • On September 12, a division bench of justice RV More and justice Sadhana Jadhav upheld petitioner Yogesh Thakkar’s submission to make the CBI and Union of India respondents in the case.

In 2011, then OIF board member Klaus Steeg said before the European Union Intellectual Property Office that OIF undertook “enormous investments” to promote OSHO and make it “the most well-known trademark in the EU in relation to meditation services in the field of mind, body and spirit”.

Attempts by the OIF to register OSHO in the US were successfully challenged by Osho Friends International, New Delhi. In January 2009, the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled a series of trademarks with the word OSHO in it.

In sharp contrast to the 2017 EU judgment, the US administrative trademark judges said: “The primary significance of Osho is as a religious or meditation movement, and not as a source identifier for goods and services.”

Osho’s followers in India and abroad are undaunted by the EU judgment.

Chaitanya Keerti, the former spokesperson of Osho Commune told Hindustan Times that “Osho can never be reduced to a brand”.

Ramateertha, in Germany, noted: “There is a difference between Osho and OSHO and living with both at the same time is certainly going to require a great deal of intelligent creativity.”

(The writer is editor of Hindustan Times’ Pune edition and author of the investigative book, Who Killed Osho?)