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The Pilates Trademark Lawsuit

Pilates is a highly respected workout named after Joseph Pilates who developed the teachings and “Contrology” method we love and know as Pilates today. You can find this flourishing practice at many studios and gyms, but it wasn’t always so easy to find a “Pilates” class, or at least not under the Pilates name. 

A Trademarked Surname

As the exercise form grew into popularity, the name “Pilates” and the “Pilates Studio” were registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in the 1980’s. In 1992, Sean Gallagher acquired the Pilates Studio (a continuation of Joseph Pilates’ original studio) and the Pilates name trademarks. 

Gallagher had studied with Rowan Kryzanowska, past Pilates Studio owner and one of the first generation students (also known as The Elders) who worked with Joseph Pilates himself and went on to teach the next generation,  sharing his ideas after he passed away.

Gallagher soon began taking legal action against instructors who used the exercise method’s name. This meant that anyone who did not go through one particular training program, no matter how qualified or experienced they were, could not call their offerings Pilates. 

This put a limitation on the Pilates community and grew frustration as they could not publicly describe the method they specialized in by its name without paying Gallagher yearly fees. Many teachers and studios didn’t have the means to enter a legal battle and fight this.

“Here we have people standing around Pilates equipment in the Pilates Studio” (Source.)

The Trademark is Questioned

In 1996, Balanced Body’s CEO, Ken Endelman, challenged the Pilates restriction refusing to pay large profit portions for the use of the surname to Sean Gallagher, whom Balanced Body had previously manufactured Pilates equipment for and done business with. A four year legal battle resulted when Gallagher sued Balanced Body.

During the trial it was proven that Pilates is an exercise method, not a brand name, and is considered to be a “generic” term. As a generic term that is widely used and known by established Pilates instructors, the public, and the media, it was no longer entitled to trademark protection. 

The court also recognized that Gallagher had purchased the studio with his own business plan after it had not had ongoing business for years. This meant the trademarks were no longer attached to the public reputation and the “good will” of the business. Healite (whom he’d purchased the studio from) had long abandoned the rights to any marks by the time they were sold in 1992 and the transfer was therefore considered invalid.

Gallagher had never acquired an equipment trademark, had long expired patents, and had misled the PTO. He was found guilty of fraud and the trademark was cancelled.

Positive Impact on the Community

Many Pilates instructors, studios, and related-businesses rejoiced in the freedom to use the prestigious name of it’s creator. Other experienced, groundbreaking Pilates instructors could expand their trainings. Studios, equipment, and instructors were more easily discovered by the public, and the Pilates movement continued to thrive.

“Here we have two  women performing a Pilates exercise on Reformers.”

The Future of Pilates

While it’s a wonderful thing that Joseph Pilates’ dream has continued after his passing and there are no longer so many limitations, it’s important that the quality of instruction and  equipment uphold the Pilates standard.

With any pursuit of education, teaching, or participating in a new workout method, research is always important. It is the responsibility of all teachers, practitioners, and creators to stay committed to the reputation and honor of this innovative and thoughtful practice.

Pilates has withstood the test of time and come a long way since the lawsuit. What was once an exercise performed by dancers and the elite is now a celebrated staple in the fitness and wellness world. With the help and respect of its strong community the future of Pilates is bright!