OIF's Trademark Claims Problems
page is part
of the historical background relating to "What Is an
Osho?", a slick, sannyas-paradigm-shifting policy paper written by
and circulated in 1998. A deconstruction of Amrito's paper is presented
on this site, introduced here. A large subset of the
background addresses various aspects of OIF's claimed right
to control Osho's legacy, particularly regarding the legal muscle of
copyright and trademark. This page looks at
some fundamental problems in OIF's trademark claims. It is sourced from Osho
Friends International. For more legal pages, see OFI or Legal
What’s wrong with OIF's claim to
There are two basic problems with OIF's claims to own trademarks. The
first is the one pointed out in both the 2000 domain name decision and
the 2009 US Trademark Board decision: Osho is not used as a trademark.
Osho's given name, Rajneesh, and His pseudonym, Osho, have both been
used over the past 40 years to describe all the work done by thousands
of individuals and hundreds of centers around the world related to
Osho's teachings and the movement that arose around Him. When Osho
adopted the name Osho in 1989, He asked that it be used the same way
Rajneesh had been used for so many years, and it has been used that way
since 1989. Since the name is associated with Osho's entire teaching
and movement, it can't be a trademark for anyone. (See Genericness).
The next big problem OIF has is one not reached by the US Trademark
Board when it cancelled the trademarks because "Osho" is generic. That
problem is that no one can legitimately register a trademark unless at
the time of the application/registration they own exclusive rights to
use that trademark in the geographical area involved (US, EU, etc.).
There are a few ways someone can gain exclusive rights. They can create
or "coin" the term themselves, but OIF clearly didn't coin "Osho." Osho
was a title from the Zen tradition that Osho spoke about and His people
asked if they could use to refer to Him. OIF has admitted this. Next,
in the case of the name of a living person, the trademark claimant can
have an assignment of rights from the person involved. For years OIF
claimed it had an assignment of trademark rights from Osho, but this
turned out to be completely false. (See The
Ever-Changing Story.) The
last way that a person or entity can gain exclusive rights in the
marketplace is to use the mark first in commerce. This is the basis OIF
now uses to claim ownership. (See First Use in
Even if a trademark claimant makes the first use in the marketplace it
will lose any rights it has if others also begin using it in the
marketplace and do so for several years without permission or control
by the claimant. This is why OIF came up with the Letters of
Understanding around 1998, to claim that it had always controlled the
centers and individuals who had been using "Osho" for nine years. OIF
also claims that it has been exercising control over all centers since
1989. (See Abandonment and Quality Control)
Trademarks can be cancelled if the person or entity registering the
trademark made false or misleading statements to the agency involved.
In the US trademark case Osho Friends argues that OIF had made two
major fraudulent statements to the trademark office: that Osho had
assigned rights to OIF and that no one but OIF had the right to use
"Osho" in the marketplace at the time of the application/registration.
Finally, both the domain name decision and the US Trademark Board
decision pointed out that no one can own or monopolize a religious
teaching or a religious movement. People can always refer to the person
Osho as an inspiration for their work. No one can ever prevent that or
prevent others from forming religious centers or organizations around a
religious teaching. (See Religious Freedom).
(sub-)topics below all had their own separate pages at OFI's site. As they
are all somewhat short and relate to further discussion and
OIF's trademark claims problems, they have been included here. They are
all linked to their original page at OFI. Note that "The Ever-Changing
Story" linked to above IS on a separate page here, as it has broader
application, if it matters.]
A word or phrase can only be a trademark if it is a "source-indicator"
for one company. (See What is a trademark?
for details.) Before "Osho"
could be a trademark, the public would have to think that all goods and
services using "Osho"—books, recordings, magazines, newspapers,
meditation events, meditation sessions, therapy groups, festivals—are
from the same source that guarantees the quality of all those goods and
In the case of "Osho," this is not the case. Some products are produced
by Osho International Foundation, Zürich (OIF), other products—CDs,
magazines, T-shirts—are produced by others, many different services,
such as events, meditation sessions, and celebration are created by
centers, while sessions, groups, and events are also created by
To make "Osho" look like a trademark, OIF has tried to claim that it
has licensed and controlled all centers since "Osho" was first used in
1989. OIF has a few problems with that argument (aside from the problem
that "Osho" isn't used as a trademark). (See Abandonment
and Quality Control for a discussion.)
In the US no known center agreed to be licensed by OIF and some refused
to sign the Letter of Understanding (which is not a trademark license).
A similar situation exists in all the other geographical areas. Also,
since no one can dominate or monopolize a religious teaching, new
centers related to Osho's work could always open without permission
from OIF (or anyone else). So, OIF's claim to permanently control all
work related to the teachings of Osho could never be true.
In addition to being generic, a term that describes the goods or
services involved instead of identifying the source of those goods or
services is descriptive. Trademarks in the US were cancelled on both
For the legal arguments made about genericness in the US case see: See
Trial Brief of Opposer/Petitioner pp. 27–37; Reply Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner pp. 4–12.)
Use in the Marketplace
Osho International Foundation, Zürich (OIF), claims that it has used
Osho as a trademark since 1989, but in the US, at least, most of the
uses of "Osho" by OIF referred to the person Osho (i.e. as the author
of a book or speaker in a recording) or used Osho generically to
describe products or services related to the teachings of Osho. In the
US case OIF attempted to use products designed after the case was filed
in 2000 as evidence to prove trademark use, but only products from
1989–90 or the very early 1990s would be relevant to use of "Osho" as a
trademark. If OIF did not begin using "Osho" as a trademark until 2000,
any rights it once might have had were already abandoned before that
trademark use began.
In the US, use of a name as the author of a book or the speaker in a
recording is a reference to the person, not a trademark use unless
several requirements are met. This question will need to be checked in
each relevant country or area. OIF claims that it used Osho in the
marketplace first because it claimed to own the copyrights to Osho's
work and that OIF licensed the publication of books and recordings
(including the name "Osho" as the author/performer) that were sold in
the marketplace. OIF, however, never actually owned the copyrights in
Also, use of "Osho" for publications is only one of a long list of
goods and services claimed for trademarks in Switzerland and the EU, so
OIF would need to have used "Osho" first for all the goods and services
in order to claim exclusive rights to all of them. For example, if OIF
used "Osho" first to refer to Him as an author in some country, but a
center used "Osho" first to refer to groups, events, meditations, etc.,
OIF would not have exclusive rights to use "Osho" for the center
activities. If someone else used "Osho" for a publication, such as for
the Osho Times or some other publication, OIF cannot even claim first
use with regard to publications.
The dates of OIF's trademark registrations also argue against any valid
claim of first use. OIF did not register any trademarks in the EU until
1998, in Australia until 1999, and in Canada until 2002. From 1989 to
those dates the Osho centers in those areas had been using Osho to
describe and identify all center activities and individuals had been
using the name to label their activities, so OIF could not claim it had
used "Osho" exclusively since 1989 in any of those geographical areas.
In the US OIF claimed that it used Osho as an author name, but since
that alone is not a trademark use under US law, OIF did not press that
as a first use. Even with that claim, OIF failed to produce any
evidence that it licensed and controlled the books in question or
evidence of when those books were sold in the US.
By the end of the US case OIF was reduced to making the desperate
statement that all its claims to ownership of the Osho trademark in the
US were based on the alleged "rebranding" of The Rajneesh Times to The
Osho Times by OIF's "predecessor." The difficulty with this is that OIF
had no "predecessor" for any trademark rights, such as "rebranding"
rights. (See OIF and RF and RFI for
details.) No rights in "Rajneesh," "Osho," "The Rajneesh Times," or
"The Osho Times," were ever assigned
to OIF by anyone. Further, there is no legal theory that would allow
someone to gain ownership of someone else's name by co-opting that name
for a new brand without an assignment from the person named. There is
no such thing as ownership by "rebranding." OIF, of course, never
received any assignment from Osho.
[A claimant can gain exclusive rights by coining a term and using in
exclusively the marketplace, by adopting a term and using it
exclusively in the marketplace, or by an assignment from the person who
owns rights, but OIF did none of those things.]
The Rajneesh/Osho Times was published by Tao Publishing in Pune, and
OIF was not able to produce any documentation that showed any
connection between Tao and OIF that would transfer trademark rights to
OIF. In fact, far from being controlled by OIF, Tao in 1989 claimed in
its masthead to own all of Osho's copyrights. This means that Tao was
actually a competitor of OIF in claiming those copyrights in 1989.
The example used in the US case shows how far OIF will stretch to try
and manufacturer an appearance of first use in a geographical area. Any
claims to first use that OIF makes in any country or area should be
carefully checked out in detail to see if they can stand up to
scrutiny. Since the reality is that Osho asked everyone to use His new
name, Osho, in 1989, and people around the world did so at about the
same time, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to claim first
exclusive use in the marketplace for all goods and services related to
For more discussion of this topic see: Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner pp. 45–48.
and Quality Control
Even if some person or entity was able to prove first use of a
trademark in the marketplace for a good or service, if other people
began using the same term to describe their independent goods and
services at around the same time and continued to do so for several
years, any rights created by the first use would be abandoned.
At some point OIF realized that any claim it might make to trademarks
had been abandoned because all Osho centers and many individuals had
been independently using "Osho" for at least nine years. OIF had to
recreate history to try and make it appear that the centers had not, in
fact, been independent during that time.
Around 1998 OIF or Global Connections in Pune had sent out Letters of
Understanding (LOUs) for centers to sign. Either at that time, or at
some later point, OIF decided to claim that these letters were legally
binding trademark licenses for the use of "Osho" on behalf of OIF.
Neither OIF nor Global Connections informed the centers of this belief
before LOUs were signed or for several years after.
When Osho Friends pointed out that the LOUs were not only not trademark
licenses, but that they were nine years too late, OIF claimed that it
had formed legally binding oral licenses with all Osho centers in the
world to use Osho in 1989. OIF was unable to produce one scrap of
competent testimony or documentation to support this theory and was
unable to show why it would have owned any exclusive rights in "Osho"
to license to centers in 1989 anyway, since it had no assignment from
In reality, the Letters of Understanding (LOUs) aren't legitimate
trademark licenses. (See Trial Brief of Opposer/Petitioner pp. 18–21;
40–41; Reply Trial Brief of Opposer/Petitioner pp. 17–18.) (See also,
OIF and the Osho Centers)
For a discussion of the oral license claim see: Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner [link] pp. 21; Reply Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner pp. 18–19.)
OIF used a significant portion of it's brief in the US case to claim
that it had exercised "quality control" over the centers. This
"control" generally consisted of things like casual visits or travel by
Vatayana to lead meditation groups for profit that were retroactively
characterized as "inspections," visits to Pune that were characterized
as "training," and various claims to control the activities at the Pune
center, which OIF has no legal authority to do. (See OIF and Pune for a
discussion.) Of course, OIF has no right to "control" what it doesn't
own in the first place.
A legitimate trademark holder has a product or service that it licenses
others to sell in the marketplace under the trademark. For example, a
fast-food franchise is authorized to sell chicken prepared by a certain
process using a certain recipe. The goods or services originate with
the trademark holder.
In the situation of Osho's work, none of the activities of individuals
or centers originate with OIF. Osho's meditation techniques have been
in the public domain for many years, since Osho authorized wide use
beginning in the 1960 and never exercised control. Other activities
like publications, meditation sessions, meditation events, groups,
workshops, personal sessions, meditation and celebration events,
festivals, classes, cultural events, retreats, and so on, have never
originated with OIF. They have originated with individuals and centers
that have been inspired by Osho and His teachings. This has been true
for many years.
This means that OIF's relationship with the Osho centers is not the
relationship of a trademark holder, since none of the goods or services
originate with OIF. The relationship OIF seeks to impose on centers is
one of a religious hierarchy seeking to control and monopolize a
For example, in the Letter of Understanding Global Connections (GC)
discussed its desire to limit the activities of centers to "Osho," but
what does that mean? For example, if one of Osho's sannyasins or
someone who was inspired by Osho is enlightened, is that included in
"Osho"? Are the further insights of Osho's people, "Osho"? Why does OIF
or GC have the authority to decide that Osho centers must be limited to
"Osho" or to define what "Osho" means?
These kinds of questions are not trademark questions. They don't
involve some good or service that originates with OIF. These are
questions about the attempt to control and monopolize a religious
teaching. Though OIF calls this kind of attempt to interfere in the
religious activities of centers "trademark quality control," it clearly
is not that. OIF has no quality of goods or services to protect, and it
cannot monopolize or control people involved in a religious teaching
against their wishes. (See Religious
In many places even a valid trademark can be cancelled if the applicant
committed fraud by saying something it knew or should have known was
untrue or failed to provide the agency involved with information that
might have affected the agency's decision. In the case of alleged
trademarks for Osho, OIF has to claim that "Osho" is used as a
trademark and that OIF owns the trademark and has the exclusive right
to use it in the marketplace, but neither of these things is true.
In the US case OIF had told the United States Patent and Trademark
Office (USPTO) that it had received an assignment of trademark rights
from Osho and referred to Osho as OIF's "predecessor" for trademark
rights. It later turned out that OIF had never received an assignment
of any trademark rights from Osho. In fact, in spite of constant
reference to "predecessors" for trademark rights in the recent
litigation, it turned out that OIF had never received an assignment of
trademark rights from anyone.
In order to file applications for trademark registrations various
representatives of OIF (Pramod, Amrito, etc.) signed sworn statements
claiming that no one but OIF had the right to use "Osho" in the US
marketplace. They signed these statements, beginning in 1994, when they
knew that Osho centers and individuals had been using "Osho" to
describe their goods and services since 1989 at Osho's own request. OIF
never informed the USPTO of the existence of the US Osho centers and
individuals or their activities.
OIF claimed that it reasonably believed that OIF had formed oral
licenses with all centers in 1989, so that only OIF gained any rights
by the centers' uses. OIF was unable to provide any competent (legally
admissible) testimony about this or to produce any document ever
referring to an oral license between 1989 and 1998, the years OIF
claimed they existed.
For the legal arguments on fraud in the US case see: Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner pp. 44–51; Reply Trial Brief of Opposer/Petitioner
There are laws protecting religious freedom in all the countries and
areas where OIF has attempted to claim ownership of trademarks for
"Osho." These laws prohibit anyone from monopolizing or controlling
religious teachings against the wishes of the people involved.
In past centuries there were state religions and everyone was obligated
to belong. Now, in the countries involved here, people have the freedom
to choose. No one, for example, can monopolize Christian teachings. An
individual can choose to be a Catholic, a Lutheran, a member of the
Church of Christ, or hundreds of other choices. Anyone who wants to can
start his or her own church or group that interprets the Christian
teachings. No one can prevent that, because religious teachings are
free to all.
Osho spoke strongly about His right to speak about Jesus, even though
He was not a Christian:
few days before, from Germany... The Protestant Church of Germany has
published a booklet against me in which they say that people can be
deceived by my words because I talk about Jesus and I give beautiful
interpretations to Jesus' words, but those interpretations are not
Christian—as if they have to be Christian, only then can they be right!
As if Christians have any copyright over Jesus! Jesus belongs to all!
Of course, my interpretation is my interpretation. Who is saying that
it is Christian? Even if they say it is Christian, I will deny! It is
not Christian—it is my interpretation, it is my vision. But I know
Jesus more directly than the Christians know him. They know him through
the scriptures, they know him through scholarship.
~ from Zen: The Special Transmission, ch 6, q1
Osho says "Jesus belongs to all," but OIF claims that Osho belongs to
OIF. OIF is apparently well aware how indefensible its position is,
because it doesn't actually try to argue that OIF has the right to own
a religious teaching. Instead it argues that Osho's teachings are not
OIF's first argument on this has to do with the way Osho distinguished
between religion and religiousness. Such as:
I am doing here has nothing to do with religion at all. It is a kind of
religiousness—no belief, no dogma, no church. It is a love affair; you
cannot be convinced of it. Do you think Majnu can convince others about
the beauty of Laila? It is impossible. Nobody can convince anybody else
about his love affair. It is far deeper than the intellect, it is of
the heart, and the heart knows no arguments, no proofs; it is simply
so. One can dance, one can sing, but one cannot prove it. One can shout
with joy, one can say "Alleluia!" but those are not arguments, they are
~ from Come, Come, Yet Again Come, ch 13 q1
OIF's attorney claimed in the oral argument in the US case that "Osho
abhorred religion." She also argued that because OIF sells nonreligious
note cards under its Osho "mark," and because some people go to Pune
for spa treatments, not meditation, "Osho" is not religious.
In fact, OIF went so far as to claim that Osho's people, of all people
on the planet, are the only ones lacking religious freedom. OIF claimed
that there was no need for "Osho" to be available for people other than
OIF to use, because there were other forms of "mind/body/wellness" that
people can use. For example, people can refer to Deepak Chopra. In
other words, only OIF can refer to Osho, but sannyasins and Osho lovers
who don't want to be controlled by OIF can go find another religious
teaching. OIF claims sannyasins who don't want to submit to OIF's
control have no rights to use "Osho."
OIF is completely wrong about all of this. OIF can't unilaterally
declare that Osho's teachings are not religious. If Osho's teachings
are not religious for the members of OIF, that's their freedom to
decide, but they can't make that decision for anyone else. Anyone who
considers Osho's teachings on meditation and religiousness "religious"
in the sense that they play an important role in their lives, then the
teachings are religious for them. No one can ever make that decision
for any other individual.
Even if OIF was correct in arguing that Osho was not interested in
religiousness (which they certainly were not), that still wouldn't
prevent the teachings from being religious for some people. Even the
teacher cannot control religious teachings once they have been given.
The founder of an idea doesn't have to consider him or herself to be a
religious teacher in order for his or her teachings to be religious.
For example, an early US President, Thomas Jefferson, wrote a version
of the Christian New Testament in which he removed all references to
the supernatural and attempted to remove what he thought had been added
later to the essential teachings of Jesus. In doing this Jefferson
probably did not consider himself to be a religious teacher and most
people consider his work to be primarily political and philosophical,
instead of religious. Nevertheless, if anyone believes that Jefferson's
interpretation of the New Testament correctly identifies the essence of
Christian teaching and lives his or her life according to Jefferson's
writings, then Jefferson is a religious teacher for that person and his
writings are religious teachings.
Religiousness is a personal, individual thing, and each individual has
the right to choose what religious teachings to accept, how to
interpret them, and whether to choose organized religion or
religiousness. Organized religions can exist and they can even exercise
religious authority. However, they can only exercise religious
authority over those who voluntarily submit to their authority. No
religion can ever exert religious authority over anyone who has not
freely chosen to submit to that religious authority. Further, anyone
who has submitted to a religious authority can always choose to opt out
and leave the religion.
This means that no one, not OIF, and not anyone else, can ever control
or monopolize the activity of people who are interested in, working
with, interpreting, or living by the teachings of Osho. This kind of
control can never happen. Catholics can't force Methodists to accept
the Catholic Church's interpretation of Christian teachings. Orthodox
Jews can't force Reformed Jews to accept Orthodox control. Sunni
Muslims can't control Shiite Muslims. Theravada Buddhists can't stop
Pure Land Buddhists from chanting the name of Amida. OIF can't stop
Osho lovers from interpreting His teachings in as many and as varied
ways as they like.
Because no religious teaching can ever be controlled, all efforts to
impose a "trademark" which is really a form of religious control or
monopoly is a complete waste of resources that could be used, instead,
to promote and spread Osho's work.
For the legal arguments in the US case see: Trial Brief of
Opposer/Petitioner pp. 52–53; Reply Trial Brief of Opposer/Petitioner