Tuesday, 9 October 2007


A patent misunderstanding

At its outset, writing a blog is very much a conversation with oneself. Dialogue, one has to hope, will follow later.


My opening posting touched upon the tectonic shift, the qualitative change, that I have sensed building in the opening years of this century as the contradictions within the ‘international period’ of Conductive Education become ever harder to sustain. My own understanding of the present situation world wide is that the next period, which I call the ‘globalised stage’, is already struggling to be born. In the meanwhile, of course, as in all such shifts into a new era, what were once seen as modern and progressive forces are holding on tightly to what are increasingly ‘old’ ways of thinking, and acting against the emergence of the really new.

I had been expecting to be illustrating this theme in the present posting with examples of both the old ’internationalised’ and the newer ‘globalised’ themes apparent in Conductive Education today – and how individual events may serve to move things on from one stage to the next. Then a sudden unexpected example merits more urgent attention, one that may in hindsight prove crucial or may turn out to have been of no historical significance whatsoever.

Last Monday, 1 October, the new Rector of the International Pető Institute in Budapest, Franz Schaffhauser, took up his post. You can see the full announcement on the Institute’s website:

Those who read Hungarian will find much to consider there.

There has been a scattering of media coverage of this new appointment in the Hungarian media and this weekend MTI (the Hungarian national press agency) published the gist of this in English. This story came therefore much more quickly and directly out of Hungary (and into an international language) than did reports of the extraordinary events leading up to, surrounding and following the appointment of Zita Makoi, the previous Rector just retired (indeed, many in the conductive world hardly or never even heard of what happened then).

This in full is what MTI reported this weekend:

Special needs children's centre to seek patent rights  paper

Budapest, October 5 (MTI) - Hungary's world-renowned Peto Institute, a centre for children with locomotive disorders, has received a new director and is seeking to patent the special needs method of the so-called conductive education it has developed, national daily Népszabadság reported on Friday. 

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has appointed Franz Schaffhauser as director of the Budapest-based centre, with hopes of putting an end to years of disputes over the leadership of the institution. Schaffhauser has pledged to start legal preparations to protect the special education method developed at the centre with an international patent. He also initiated a research programme to incorporate the latest research results into the Pető method. 

András Pető developed his conductive education system after WW2 and his method opened up a new way for the rehabilitation of children and adults suffering from motor disorders whose dysfunction was due to damage to the central nervous system. Around 1,200 children  many of the from abroad  are treated each year in the institute, which also functions as a training centre for educators.

There are an estimated 15 million children aged under 14 around the world suffering from motor disorders whose condition can be improved with the Pető method.

As stated above this has enormous implications for everyone involved in Conductive Education everywhere in the world, whether they want to use the system, practise it, even perhaps analyse and write about it.

It is not clear what the word ‘patent’ means here – nor even the term ‘Conductive Education’ ,which is not a Hungarian expression at all and represents a far wider phenomenon worldwide than exists in Hungary.

Can he or can’t he?

Could one really establish an ’international patent’ for Conductive Education? I’m no lawyer and you shouldn’t take my word for it. Most conductive centres around the world have access to legal advice. I hate to direct yet more money into the hands of lawyers but, if you are at all concerned that you might be affected in any way by this proposed ‘international patent’, consult your lawyer. Certainly, specifics of intellectual-property law will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the general answer will be the same. One cannot ‘patent’ an educational process.

Under Canadian law Ontario March of Dimes (more recently March of Dimes Canada) has trademarked the name ‘Conductive Education’, which is not quite the same thing as taking out a patent, and its own publications always carry the little superscript letters ™ every time that the name is used. (This is very odd if you read, for example, of ‘the National Institute of Conductive Education™’) Such trade-marking of an educational system is apparently possible under Canadian law, though I am advised that it would not be under the law of England – and I have yet to hear of how in practice it has affected other Canadian organisations running their own conductive services (even within Ontario itself). Even so, one has to wonder whether the International Pető Institute intends that its writ should also run in Canada!

Canada is a specific but it does help illustrate a general point, the difference between a trademark and a patent. Again, I’m no lawyer but I explain this to myself by reference to pizzas. Nobody can ‘patent’ a pizza or restrict the ways, good or bad, in which pizzas continue to be developed as a global product – otherwise how would the Brits ever have experienced the joys of Chicken Tikkha toppings and other fusions? (I first aired the pizza analogy on 29 April 2006 in the weekend supplement of Magyar Hírlap, in an inw with Péter Sárkany called Egy világsiker árnyai és fényei). One cannot even invoke pays d’origine, and I gather that Chicago represented a major step forward in the history of the pizza. Where did your last pizza come from? You might have experienced it in Italy, or in a nice little family-run Italian restaurant somewhere far removed from Italy. Much more likely it was from Pizza Express, from your local fast-food take-away, or from your local supermarket. Or perhaps you even baked it yourself, at home, using a recipe that might have been written by an Italian – or by anyone.

You can’t patent ‘pizza’ or the processes that go into making it. What you can do is trademark your particular brand of pizza: Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Domino’s, Peppes etc. and then jealously protect your brand through the courts. The branding might refer to the trademark, the image, other foodstuffs sold alongside and all sorts of surrounding phenomena such as décor, as much as to the actual food product that epitomises all this, the particular pizzas purveyed under, say, the Pizza Hut franchise. This is a commercial as much as – or even more than – a culinary issue.

What now?

I have suggested that the immediate implication of last week’s news from the International Pető Institute is for those involved in Conductive Education elsewhere is simple: fret not.

If you are involved with a conductive centre, do, however, take sensible precautions For example consult your own lawyer – and make sure that you have proper legal insurance in place, just in case (sorry, more hard-won finances diverted away from primary tasks). 

If you are in England the Charity Commission (a national regulatory body for non-profit organisations) might regard insurance against possible litigation that challenges your right to do what you are doing, to be a prudent and necessary response to potential risk and even insist on some such protective measure. If you have your annual audit of accounts coming up you might show the statement published by MTI to your auditors and ask that they think of this point.) If you are elsewhere in the world you might still find yourselves bound by analogous formal requirements.

The International Pető Institute, whatever its intentions, is posing itself as a possible litigant to a large number of individuals and institutions world wide. The proposed ‘international patent’ could even be construed as potentially affecting conductors who trained in Budapest and now offer Conductive Education in a bewildering range of contexts far outside the experience of their alma mater

Conductors too should be assured that there is no real enforceable threat to their continuing to do what they do. 

A further unfortunate by-product of the present situation is that everyone who communicates with the International Pető Institute would be sensible to be very careful about what is committed to paper and sent to an organisation that could prove a potential litigant. Not, one hopes, for ever but just in case, till the present issue is behind us.


Why did this happen? Who knows? One should not waste precious energy on fruitless speculation on what is behind this. If, however, you want a hope for a way out of this it is that all the International Pető Institute really wants is to trademark its particular brand within Conductive Education. When it has taken full and appropriate legal advice – and also clarified what specifically that brand might be – then it will go ahead and do so, in Hungary or wherever else it wants. The rest of the conductive world will then be free to get on with more important matters. What benefit, even what commercial benefit such a trademark offers anyone I have no idea but this is not my business and it is not my money being spent to buy baubles.

A minor mystery of the MTI report is its concluding mention of the number of disabled young people in the world. If this mention, of no relevance to the appointment in Hungary) is indicative of intention to establish some form of franchising of a specific brand within the wider world of Conductive Education, then existing institutions should not necessarily experience this as a threat. Brands and franchising are commonplaces of the globalised market place, and market-expansion and competition should be welcomed – but the global market has no place for an unenforceable monopoly.

How does this relate to my own model of conductive history? The idea of an ‘international patent’ for Conductive Education is an attempt to maintain the status quo from the international period of conductive history, made by an organisation that regarded itself at the start of that period, some twenty or so years ago, as the epicentre of the conductive universe. (To a large but not wholly justified degree it was once justified in doing so but I have always to qualify this because of my respect for the contribution of Károly and Magda Ákos in the eighties and early nineties.)  

At what now looks like the international period’s end-game, by the standards of that now vastly expanded and transformed conductive universe, the International Pető Institute is still a very large establishment still enjoying remarkable support from its state’s institutions. Whether or not such domestic advantages are maintained, however, forces have been called into life from elsewhere that are bigger by far, involve a far wider space and have already introduced fruitful new qualities to the mix that makes up Conductive Education.


  1. Andrew
    This from Wikipedia:
    "Although there are many schools which use the name "Montessori," the word itself is not recognized as a trademark, nor is it associated with a single specific organization. Thus it is legally possible to use the term "Montessori" without necessary adherence to a particular training or teaching method."

  2. Hi Andrew,I read through your blog on 9th Oct. very fast. Briefly, I disagree with your opinion about international patent. I think this should have been done between 1986 and 1994 but never too late. Some points: 1. Methods like Rudolf Steiner Schools, Montessori Education way of upbringing have done it well and it is internationally accepted everywhere - there is a doable way. 2. I think it is a bit bizarre to make pasta with chicken (in many cases) and sell it as pizza salami. - This mislead many professionals and people (parents and children) involved with CE. 3. CE became pizza - unfortunately- it should have been controlled to progress just like the above mentioned Rudolf Steiner or like Bobath, Voita, Kabath, Doman-Delakato, etc. developing methods. They have patent and a certain way (if you like pattern) to run with.4. Business - some chicken pasta companies started to TRAIN pizza makers who do not have a clue about pizza when working in a pizzeria :)) i like it. - those companies make a huge profit, do not forget that - it is not fair.
    My best, Laszlo Szogeczki