Thursday, January 15, 2009

After Careful Meditation, TTAB Finds "OSHO" Generic for ... Guess What?

The Board granted a petition for cancellation of three registrations for the term OSHO for goods and services related to religion, philosophy, and science, on the ground that the term is generic. It found that the "primary significance of OSHO is as a religious movement, and not as a source identifier for goods or services." Osho Friends International v. Osho International Foundation, Opposition Nos. 91121040, 91150372, et al., Cancellation No. 920319321 (January 13, 2009) [not precedential].


Indian mystic and spiritual teacher Rajneesh Chandra Mohan adopted the name "Osho" just before his death in 1990. He urged his followers to spread his teaching as broadly as possible, and to that end they opened meditation centers and camps that offered his meditation techniques. These centers operated independently, and Osho "gave each center a name as a gift and a certificate bearing such name." He requested that the centers use "Osho" as part of their names "so people would recognize them as meditation centers based upon his teachings and ideas."

Plaintiff is an association of individuals and centers involved in spreading the teachings of Osho. They seek to make descriptive or generic use of the term OSHO for many of the products and services that are the subject of Defendant's registrations and applications.

The parties agreed that Osho never owned or used OSHO as a mark. In fact he expressed the view that meditations do not lend themselves to trademark protection:

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has copyrighted transcendental meditation and just underneath in a small circle you will find written TM – that means trademark!

For ten thousand years the East has been meditating and nobody has put trademarks upon meditations. And above all, that transcendental meditation is neither transcendental nor meditation … just a trademark.

I told [my secretary] to reply to these people, "You don't understand what meditation is. It is nobody’s belonging, possession. You cannot have any copyright. Perhaps if your country gives you trademarks and copyrights on things like
meditation, then it will be good to have a copyright on stupidity. That will help the whole world to be relieved … Only you will be stupid and nobody else can be stupid; it will be illegal."

Defendant pointed out that there are no dictionary definitions for OSHO, but the Board noted that this may simply reflect the small number of individuals who are followers of Osho. Plaintiff submitted reference books and other publications using OSHO as a generic term for a religious and meditative movement. Competitors and others use OSHO generically, and Defendant itself uses OSHO as a generic term.

The Board therefore concluded that OSHO is generic because it "is understood by the public to refer to these meditation techniques as well as the meditative and religious movement that developed around them."

We recognize that OSHO does not present a clear case of a generic noun, but rather often appears as a generic adjective. Certain of the evidence referenced above points to use of OSHO as a generic noun for a religious or meditative movement. More commonly, however, the term OSHO appears as an adjective, directly naming the most important or central aspect or purpose of defendant's goods and services, that is, that they are based upon the religious and meditative teachings of the mystic Osho. As such, this term is generic and should be freely available for use by competitors.

The Board therefore granted the petition to cancel Defendant's three registrations for the mark OSHO alone.

Plaintiff also challenged, on the ground of mere descriptiveness, one application for OSHO alone, and one registration and eight applications for OSHO-containing marks [e.g., OSHO ACTIVE MEDITATIONS, OSHO ZEN TAROT, OSHO KUNDALINI MEDITATION, etc.] The Board granted the petition for cancellation and sustained all nine oppositions, finding that the involved goods and services "are based upon the meditative techniques as well as the meditative and religious movement arising from the teachings of the mystic Osho."

And so the term OSHO remains free for use by all followers of the late Indian mystic.

Text Copyright John L. Welch 2009.


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