Panthic, Community, People

Golden Temple Loses Tea to Bibiji

By Kamalla Kaur | October 20, 2011

‘Bibiji,’ as she is popularly known, won her lawsuit against the food company on July 29. Her complaint was first filed in the US District Court, Central District of California on February 5, 2010, and ended on June 9, 2010, with an order to arbitrate. The arbitration landed at the Arbitration Service of Portland, Oregon, in January 2011, and ended in a favorable decision for Bibiji.

 

Sikhs on the Yogi's Dharma “We feel shame over how Yogi Bhajan conned young people,” said Harmander Singh of Sikhs of England, coach of Fauja Singh, the 100-year-old world record marathon runner, and London's ‘Sikhs In The City' team. “We Sikhs live by the principles of remembering God, working hard and sharing with others. Nowhere is there any promotion of… tantra and yoga gimmicks in the Sikh scriptures.” Yet Yogi Bhajan was given the title ‘Siri Singh Sahib’ by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 1971, and awarded the rare honorific title of ‘Panth Rattan,’ or Jewel of the Sikh Nation, in 1999 at Anandpur Sahib. His wife also was awarded the ‘Panth Rattan’ in 2005 at Takht Patna Sahib. According to the World Sikh Council – America Region, a coalition of 47 gurdwaras and Sikh organizations, Yogi Bhajan told one of its members: “Sikhs of India had fulfilled their mission by preserving the Divine Word, Siri Guru Granth Sahib, for three centuries; that the Guru had now come to America; that, henceforth, Sikhism would spread from here to the rest of the world; and that he was not interested in Sikhs from India… These (and other) claims by Sardar Harbhajan Singh were resented by many Sikhs and took some of the gloss off the work he had done.”

 

Born into the Uppal family on January 22, 1935, in Wazirabad, Gujranwala District, now in West Pakistan, Bibiji married her husband in Delhi, in 1954, and had three children.

According to 3HOhistory.com, her husband, also known as Yogi Bhajan, immigrated to Canada in 1968 and settled in Los Angeles to teach Kundalini and White Tantric yogas to the hippie counterculture of California and New Mexico. His family soon followed.

“…(The couple) created a new culture of Sikhi as founded by Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs,” the Web site says.

Although the community kept the outward appearance of Sikhs, the bana of beard and dastaar, and now calls itself ‘Sikh Dharma,’ many of its practices, such as faith-based yoga, contradict the fundamental teachings of the Sikh faith, and has perturbed many Sikhs of Indian origin.

YOGI TEA

But in his new dharma, the yogi had found his calling. Capitalization quickly followed.

According to the arbitration documents, Yogi Bhajan was known for serving an herbal tea at his Kundalini yoga classes. It became known as Yogi Tea. As the community expanded and built ashrams throughout the United States, it was common for yoga teachers to serve Yogi Tea at yoga classes.

Yogi Bhajan encouraged his followers to support themselves by establishing businesses that employed members of his dharma. Among their early businesses was the Golden Temple Conscious Cookery Restaurants, which served Yogi Tea.

The Golden Temple Tea Company was formed in the early 1980s by three of the yogi’s followers. It began doing business as the Yogi Tea Company by selling prepackaged Yogi Tea to Golden Temple restaurants and to Golden Temple Natural Foods Stores, another new business. The company grew to eventually include natural food products, and reorganized as Yogi G.

The three original founders then donated the company to Sikh Dharma International, a non-profit corporation controlled by Yogi Bhajan. In the early 1990s, Yogi G merged into Golden Temple of Oregon, a cereal and baked-goods company, which also was donated to the dharma.

Golden Temple then sold its baked-goods business in May 2010 to Hearthside Food Solutions of Illinois for $71 million, but continues to make Yogi Tea from its factories in Ohio and Europe.

In 2009, sales of Yogi Tea exceeded $27million, the document says.

LICENSE

Yogi Bhajan initially gave Golden Temple a verbal license to the Yogi Tea recipe, and formalized a written agreement in 1993 with a trademark license. In July 2004, Golden Temple received a new trademark license from Yogi Bhajan and Bibiji’s joint living trust. The company was given rights to use his name, likeness and signature as trademarks to sell tea, cereal and herbal products.

Kartar Singh Khalsa, president of Golden Temple, told the court that the license was “devised to provide Yogi Bhajan a stream of income in the form of royalties, a portion of which Yogi Bhajan would use to fund his non-profits,” the document says.

Just days before Yogi Bhajan’s death in October 2004, another agreement extended Golden Temple’s license from 10 years to 75 years.

According to the trust, the royalties were now to be split, with 50 percent going to his wife and the other 50 percent going to his Administrative Trust, with Yogi Bhajan’s 15 personal staff members as its beneficiaries.

THE WIFE SUES GOLDEN TEMPLE

In Bibiji Inderjit Kaur Puri v. Golden Temple of Oregon, Bibiji sued Golden Temple when, in late 2008, the company stopped printing Yogi Bhajan's name, likeness and messages on its products, thereby denying Bibiji and his personal staff of 15 single Caucasian women their royalties.

But the company continued to use ‘Yogi Tea,’ and introduced another brand called ‘Yogi.’

Golden Temple was the owner of a number of trademarks, including ‘Yogi Tea’ for tea, acquired in 1996 and ‘Yogi’ for tea, cereal and granola, acquired in 2008.

Bibiji contended that even though Yogi Bhajan was never an owner, manager or director of the businesses, he had full control over all of the businesses and was the owner of all the trademarks. Businesses were donated to him at his request, and he even designated their managers. He installed Kartar Khalsa as head of Golden Temple. And, with his approval, the company used Yogi Bhajan to promote its brand, often using the phrase: ‘The Yogi behind Yogi Tea is Yogi Bhajan.’

Bibiji claimed that ‘Yogi Tea’ and ‘Yogi’ constituted the ‘name and likeness’ terms in the 2004 agreement, and were subject to royalty payment.

READING THE GOLDEN TEA LEAVES

The arbitration panel concluded this summer that Yogi Bhajan invented Yogi Tea, and was the “Central Management Authority” of his empire. Use of his name and likeness by Golden Temple created trademark rights in Yogi Bhajan’s name and likeness.

He was the owner and the single source of origin for the family of trademarks produced from his name and likeness, including ‘Yogi Tea’ and ‘Yogi,’ the panel said. Upon his death, those trademark ownership rights passed to his heirs, Bibiji and the adult children: Ranbir Singh Bhai, Kamaljit Kaur Kohli and Kulbir Singh Puri.

Golden Temple will have to rename its well-established ‘Yogi’ brand by January 1, 2012, a significant business risk, because Bibiji has opted not to license the trademarks back to the company.

“Indeed it does not appear to be in the best interests of the owners of the trademarks to license (Golden Temple), which has proven itself to be disloyal and dishonest licensee, having breached its contracts with Yogi Bhajan and Bibiji, laid false claim to the trademarks and registered the trademarks in its own name in express violation of its obligations under the license agreement,” said Surjit P. Soni, Bibiji’s lawyer and nephew, in a statement to the arbitration panel.”

"Bibiji has already received offers to license the trademarks from other parties, which are much more favorable than the now terminated (Golden Temple) license, and Bibiji continues to field other licensing candidates.”

Golden Temple also is ordered to pay damages to Bibiji for trademark infringement, including royalties form Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2011, plus damages. The estimated value from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010 is $1,644,605. The rest has not yet been determined.

Bibiji will receive half of that value, in accordance with the trust. The other half is in dispute in a 2007 New Mexico case, Khalsa vs. Puri. The complaint was filed by Sopurkh Kaur Khalsa, Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Ek Ong Kar Kaur Khalsa, the trustees of the Administrative Trust that Yogi Bhajan created for his beneficiaries, the 15 personal assistants.

A trial is yet to be set “to determine what portion must be reallocated to Bibiji because of Yogi Bhajan’s discretionary dispositions of community property assets without Bibiji’s knowledge or consent,” Soni said in statement to the arbitration panel.

“One hundred percent of what remains could go to Bibiji,” he told SikhNN. His longtime assistants could end up with nothing.

NEW LAWSUIT

Meanwhile, on Oct. 13, 2011, Hearthside filed a lawsuit against Bibiji in the Oregon District Court, in Portland, for trademark infringement. Hearthside is the largest privately owned bakery in the United States. After its acquisition of Golden Temple’s cereal division in 2009, it became the owner of the ‘Peace Cereal’ and ‘Golden Temple’ trademarks used for various baked products. It also was an authorized user of the ‘Yogi’ trademark for cereal and granola snacks, until Bibiji won her lawsuit.

According to the complaint, Bibiji has demanded that Hearthside enter a licensing agreement for use of the ‘Peace,’ ‘Golden Temple,’ and ‘Yogi’ trademarks or remove the names from its products, or she would file a lawsuit against the company.

Negotiations have failed.