Pilates Trademarks Overturned

The Pilates method, currently one of the hottest fitness trends in America, was the subject of a landmark decision today in Manhattan's federal district court.

In a case pitting Sean Gallagher, owner of the Manhattan-based Pilates Studio, against Balanced Body Inc., a Sacramento-based company and the world's largest manufacturer of Pilates equipment, U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Cedarbaum ruled that Pilates, like yoga and karate, is a type of exercise and not a trademark. The written decision follows an 11-day trial last June.

The Court established that 'Pilates' is a generic term. Since 'consumers identify the word 'Pilates' as a particular method of exercise,' the Court found, 'plaintiff cannot monopolize [it].' In a rebuke to Gallagher's claim that he had relied in good faith on representations made to him by a prior owner, the Court ruled that Gallagher's testimony was 'evasive and lacked credibility.' Gallagher was also found to have 'deliberately attempted to mislead' the United States Patent and Trademark Office by falsely claiming in sworn documents that he had manufactured Pilates equipment.

The Court rejected Gallagher's argument that only his teachers were qualified to teach the Pilates method, citing testimony by one of Gallagher's own witnesses that there were many other qualified Pilates instructors around the United States.

The Court noted that during his lifetime Joseph Pilates had 'promoted his method of exercise and attempted to increase its use by the public' and 'never did anything to prevent others from using [the] name to describe what they taught.'

The decision affects several thousand Pilates teachers and studios and about a dozen manufacturers across the country who had been prevented by Gallagher from using 'Pilates' in any form, including in their advertising and on their telephone answering machines. Gallagher met his match with Ken Endelman, the president of Balanced Body, who refused to buckle during the five-year long litigation. Endelman claimed victory not only for his company, but for thousands of Pilates instructors and the public. 'The public benefits from this decision,' Endelman said, 'because it will be easier to locate studios which, until now, have been prevented from saying that they teach Pilates. This decision gives the public greater access to Pilates.'