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This page is a part of "Merl's World on NLP", one of the first websites on NLP, created in 1995 on CompuServe out of a Frequently Asked Questions file on the topic.
The site has been resurrected because (1) its non-commercial, impartial nature and (2) much of the information here is still hard to find... About the Author / 7EQ: Merl's World on Emotional Intelligence / jobEQ: testing your values, work attitude and motivation

3.5. Who Owns NLP?

or "Is NLP a registered trademark?"

Between 1995 and 1999 there have been a series of legal battles around the ownership of NLP. There were essentially 2 camps: one around Richard Bandler and then "the rest of the NLP community", most of whom felt personally attacked by the lawsuit Richard Filed. This web page contains some of the remnants of that period. As you will see near the end of the page, the lawsuit was finally settled...

This whole subject reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, a book that a lot of NLPers like to cite from...

"I'll be judge, I'll be the jury," said the cunning old Fury;
"I'll try the whole cause and condemn you to death."

Lewis Carroll

Another quote from work of the same author is also very inspiring:

When all are guilty, none should play the judge.

Prologues to play

But now for something completely different...

Independent of how much the founders of NLP have contributed to the domain, the term "NLP" cannot be protected. Richard Bandler has been known to claim NLP as his invention, as I could read in an article that appeared in Rapport (an Interview of John McWither with Bandler). In that article Bandler especially disputes whether anyone but The Society of NeuroLinguistic Programming has the right to issue certificates. In 1995 and early 1996, a lot of discussion went on several CompuServe forums about NLP's protection. Rather than go deeper into the topic, I'd like to share a contribution from Robert Dilts <>, with you.

"In 1979 my father, a patent and copyright lawyer who was representing Richard (Bandler) and John (Grinder) at the time, attempted to get some kind of protection for the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the name NLP. He was unable to do so. My understanding is that it was because the name and initials had already been in public use for several years. If that was so 16 years ago it is probably even more so today."

Added 19 MAY 1997: Persons around Bandler are currently fighting this point of view. Seems like some people really want to prove that the map is not the territory, so here is a quote from an e-mail Brahm von Huene <>

"Some of the comments you make on your "history of NLP?" page are simply incorrect. Among many other things that directly contradict what you said, I still have the letter from Robert Dilts' father stating that "NLP" and "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" can be trademarked. "

Added 26 SEPTEMBER 1997: to give you another view concerning this matter, also read John Grinder's vision of the future of NLP, as I recorded it on a seminar in the Netherlands in June. Contact John Grinder at <>

Added 21 JULY 1998: At last some good news from the battlefield:


On 21st July 1998, IP(Intellectual Property) specialists Taylors Solicitors acting for Clarkson Knitting Limited, secured consent from solicitors on behalf of Richard Bandler to revocation of his controversial UK registered trade mark "NLP" and to payment of Clarksons' costs of its seven months long High Court action. (Read more about it on the ANLP website)

Added 19 AUGUST 1998: About License Agreements

Bandler and most other trainers licensed by The Society of NLP have been known (since about 1985 as far as I know) to ask their students to sign a license agreement, declaring that "Licensor (Bandler) owns ALL the right, title and interest in the copyrighted and trademarked material known as NLP". I STRONGLY RECOMMEND AGAINST SIGNING SUCH AN AGREEMENT.
(follow this link to find out about possible effects)

Added 8 JUNE 1999: Lawsuit Bandler VS "rest of the NLP community"

Steve Andreas ( let me know the result of the "Motion for Summary Adjudication".
Read the verdict of the Judge in Santa Cruz!

For more information about Intellectual Property an NLP,
I also like to refer to the excellent article with the same title by Robert Dilts in Anchor Point (issue of December 1997). Maybe there is some more on Robert's website ( )

A Bandler Statement

Added 17 JULY 1998: Richard Bandlers Statement (sent on Date: Mon, 06 Jul 1998 01:23:46 GMT)
(From:,sent to Newsgroups: alt.psychology.nlp, alt.hypnosis, alt.psychology.hypnosis )

<start of message>

" I think you will find the following very interesting:

The following is my opinion as to my role in the development of what had been called "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" or "NLP". It only represents my opinion. I am, if necessary, willing to demonstrate the efficacy of my statements both in the court of public discourse as well as in a court of law.

Much anxiety seems to have arisen surrounding litigation in which I am currently involved as well as my registration of the mark NLP(r) in the United Kingdom. Such anxieties have, to my knowledge, largely been instigated by persons and organizations that have a pecuniary interest in being able to market certain intellectual properties, which I am contending, are mine.

The purpose of the litigation I have recently commenced in the USA is not, as I believe it has been characterized by other, to control the entire world of intellectual properties that are not mine. The purpose of this litigation is to stop those who are currently exploiting my work-product, name and reputation without my consent, and to hold accountable those persons and entities who have entered into written contracts with me for the use of my work-product and name, and who have failed to live up to such contracts.

Although I have heard the opinion expressed that all NLP(r) should be in the public domain so that all can use such technologies without being required to enter into contractual obligations for the use thereof, I have never given my work-product into the public domain. I have also never barred people, who I believe are competent, form using my work-product as long as they have agreed to credit their sources appropriately and have agreed that I hold the rights to my work-product.

The litigation I have instigated is largely about whether or not I, as an individual, can exercise control over and commercially benefit form my work-product as well as the use of my name and name identity. In order to secure those rights, I have, and continue to, require that each trainee seeking certification, execute a license agreement. In order to ensure that I, and the public are able to distinguish my products from those of others I have, over the last sixteen years registered several trademarks in several different countries.

There doe not seem to be any genuine controversy as to whether or not I developed, at least, large portions of what is commonly referred to as "NLP". I have however heard it argued that I can't hold rights to what I contend are my references to others' work.

What I have done and continue to do is far more than summarize and reference others' work. I build technologies that allow me to predict which effects various permutations of the elements that comprise such technologies will have regardless of whether or not those permutations are, have been or will be an actual behavior that anyone engages in.

It is precisely this difference that distinguishes these technologies, or "models", that I have developed, from mere mimicry. It also requires that the single elements upon which I base my calculations be separate from the idiosyncrasies and habits of any individual.

My ability to subsequently calculate the effects various permutations of the elements will have, requires that I, in order to gain benefit from my own technologies, engage in behaviors that those, from whom I gleaned some of these elements, did not engage in. The proper application of these models actually precludes imitation and builds a foundation upon which people can be individual yet still be able to direct their communication.

Additionally, the works of those who I have supposedly merely "summarized and referenced" is publicly available and have been accessed by hundreds of thousands of people. There would be no controversy as to the rights to benefit from what I contend are my intellectual properties, if my technologies didn't allow people to do things beyond what those, from whom I learned certain things were able to teach.

It is at this point I have heard the argument that, even though the above may be true, I can't own what I am currently seeking adjudication for because I did not make my developments alone, but rather in partnership with others. I wish to point out that prior to ever having met the other "co-founder of NLP" I was already teaching experimental workshops based upon models that I had developed.

Additionally, in 1981, a permanent injunction was entered in Santa Cruz Superior Court enjoining John T. Grinder Jr, his agents, officers, employees, representatives and all persons acting in concert or participating with him from "... engaging in or performing any and all of the following, unless and except specifically authorized or licensed by the plaintiff or his authorized agent:

1) Using the name of logo of the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or any facsimile thereof which may tend to mislead or decieve the public as being under the aegis of the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
2) Conducting seminars purporting to offer certification in the field of Society of NeuroLinguistic Programming.
3) Utilizing Marketing devices developed by the plaintiff.
4) Soliciting or contacting clients, employees, agents or contractors for any purpose detrimental to the plaintiff...."

In a license attached to the injunction I grant to Mr. Grinder the following:

"BANDLER hereby agrees and hereby does authorize and license GRINDER to perform and conduct six (6) certification programs per year, for a period of ten (10) years under the aegis of the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming... GRINDER shall be entitled to all gross revenues of testing fees in conjunction with said programs, except that shall pay BANDLER 20% of said testing revenues to cover costs of administrative and other responsibilities...."

while "Grinder hereby agrees to transfer and does hereby transfer all his interest and that of UNLIMITED, LTD. in said partnership to NOT, LTD."

This judgment is one of the bases upon which I have brought this litigation, It is for this reason that any question as to whether or not I did develop what I am contending to be my intellectual properties, is not determinative of the question of who is legally allowed to control and commercially benefit from those intellectual properties.

I understand that many a grim picture has been painted as to possible repercussions of my prevailing in this litigation as well as the possible consequences of my continuing to hold a registration for the mark of NLP(R). I have not engaged in any actions against unwitting and innocent "practitioners". I have, however, filed suit against several individuals and entities who, I believe, know that they are exploiting my work-product and have either failed to live up to contracts they have with me. or have used my name or presence in connection with their products in order to gain an advantage in the marketplace.

I have in the past, to the extent that I was aware of them, always sought to settle such conflicts and contractual disputes without resorting to litigation. I currently find myself forced to seek adjudication as all of my attempts at negotiation have met upon deaf ears and I do wish to continue to be able to generate my livelihood by teaching what I create.

I realize that any position I take will most likely be construed by some as an attempt to sway the public's opinion. As much as you must realize that I have an interest into the outcome of the pending litigation, and have been expressing here what are only my opinions as to these subjects, you must also realize that my opposition has an interest in its outcome as well.

It is for this very reason, I suggest that, if you must form an opinion on this matter, you do so solely on the basis of those things which you can, from your own personal experience, investigate, evaluate and determine to be true.

<end of message>

Footnote on the origin of the message (by Paul Harris):

The material WAS written by or at least on behalf of Richard Bandler. It is a transcript of a statement handed out at a recent conference by the McKenna/Breen organization. They act as his agents in the United Kingdom and presumably hand out authentic material. I have a copy of the original in my hand at present. It is headed with the Society of NLP's Logo on the front page.

The reason for putting out the statement was because of a High Court action in the UK against Bandler for taking out a Trademark on the use of the letters NLP. (Note: according to the ANLP Web site Bandler withdrew his claim on NLP as a trademark on 21st of July 1998)

Details about the case are available on the ANLP web site: . The site is updated as the case progresses.

A lot of funny things happen in the world of NLP.

Paul Harris

Second footnote: formatting added by Patrick Merlevede

Forms of Amazement in the NLP communitySome more "mapwar" goodies:


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Patrick E. Merlevede, M.Sc.
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