History of NLP Series #10: The Lawsuit That Almost Killed NLP
[This article is adapted from the International Society of Neuro-Semantics (ISNS). Originally written by the co-developer of Neuro-Semantics NLP, Dr. L. Michael Hall, in Meta Reflections #42 (2010) in September 20, 2010.]
In the 1990s a blow was delivered to the field of NLP that nearly destroyed the field in the United States. Elsewhere in the world NLP kept growing and thriving, but not in the United States and the effect has continued to this day. What happened is a very sad chapter in the history of NLP.
It began in July of 1996 when Richard Bandler filed a $90,000,000 lawsuit as a civil action against John Grinder, Carmen Bostic St. Clair, Christina Hall, Steve and Connirae Andreas, and Lara Ewing and 200 John and Jane Does. In that lawsuit Bandler claimed exclusive ownership of the Society of NLP. Copies of the lawsuit are still available on various websites.
The first effected me in early 1997. Having just completed another NLP Practitioner Course with 20 people, I sent a check for $4,000 ($200 per participant was the arrangement) and the certificates to the “First Institute of NLP” in San Francisco for Richard Bandler to sign. As a NLP trainer, this was the arrangement that I had been following for seven years, but this time Brahm von Huene returned the check and certificates and sent a new contract for me to sign.
In the contract, I crossed out the section that said that anything I developed based on NLP would be considered the intellectual property of Bander and the section that if he decided to sue me, I would assume responsibility for all legal bills. Of course, I would not sign that! I initialed both places, and then sent the money, certificates and the contract back. Shortly thereafter all was returned again with the statement that I was no longer a NLP trainer under the Society of NLP.
By June of 1997 the lawsuit had become big news in the field of NLP, and so when Robert Dilts sponsored the Visionary Leadership conference in Santa Cruz California, word about the lawsuit was the central thing that everybody was talking about. There were over 200 NLP Trainers who had gathered from all around the world for this conference.
A day or two later, Judith DeLozier announced in the conference that John Grinder had showed up—but he would not come into the meeting place where we were all gathered. I think it was Judith DeLozier who announced that John would meet with anyone who wanted to talk to him about the lawsuit “out on the grass” in front of the venue. So many of us met with John and listened to what he told us about the lawsuit. He was there also to raise money for his legal defense. The very next day, Richard Bandler sent his lawyer (!) who also came and meet with anyone who wanted to talk to him “out on the grass.” And again, many of us when out to talk to him. Wyatt Woodsmall and I stood next to each other, and when there was a moment for some questions, I had the contract that had been returned to me, so I held it forth and asked Richard’s lawyer about it. But it was a futile attempt for any reasoning.
The contract that I signed, sent back with the two sections crossed out, began with these words which tells a lot about what all the ruckus was about:
“The Licensor owns throughout the World all rights, title, and interest in and to the intellectual property known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming…”
So there was no question that Bandler’s 1996 lawsuit was an attempt to take over and totally controlthefieldofNLP. And from the perspective of 1996, 1997, etc. it seemed very likely that that might happen. It seemed that he had the trademark. That’s why Dr. Bob Bodenhamer and myself decided that we would trademark and register “Neuro-Semantics.” Our thinking was that if Bandler did win the lawsuit, and forbid us from training NLP, we would still be able to train under the banner of Neuro-Semantics and that also explained why we set forth a vision of being more professional, more collaborative, more “applying to self,” etc.
During this time John Grinder put out a Statement about the lawsuit, Robert Dilts wrote a paper on Trademarks, and NLP Connection, and many other journals kept the field informed about what was going on. Steve Andreas asked me if I would be available and willing to make a deposition about NLP and be disposed by Bandler’s lawyer. I was to provide “some substantial documentation of the many sources that Bandler drew upon in the development of NLP— what he got from Bateson, from Perls, Satir, Chomsky, etc.” I had been writing about the intellectual history of NLP for years, and I readily agreed to provide that. I told Steve that I was highly disappointed in Bandler, that Steve had done more to put Bandler on the map than anyone, and that yes, of course, I would testify on his behalf.
From 1996 to 2000 (when the lawsuit was settled), hundreds of people in the United States, scared of Richard and fearful of being added to the lawsuit as one of the “John Does” began divesting themselves of NLP— they stopped referring to what they did as “NLP” and those running training centers either closed shop or changed their names. By the end, there were but a dozen centers left (if that) and even today, there’s very few Centers left, no journals, no magazines, and no associations of NLP in the US.
What happened? Chris Hall (no relation to me) explained in NLP World (July 2001): “The Court’s rulings have made it clear that Bandler’s claim to exclusive and sole ownership of the Society and the intellectual property rights associated with NLP have been false and unlawful.” (p. 17)
Christina Hall was one of my trainers when I learned NLP. I recorded some of her presentations and referred to her in my first two books on NLP: The Spirit of NLP (1989; 1996) and Becoming More Ferocious as a Presenter (1990). She was in a special internship with Richard when I first met her in 1989 and the president of “The Society of NLP.” And given that she was the representative leader of the “Bandler Group” who owned the trademark, “Society of NLP,” when the trial was all over, she won the judgment over Bandler and was awarded some $600,000. I doubt she will ever receive any of that because Bandler moved to Ireland! It turned out that Richard Bandler did not have the trademark for “NLP”—no one did. And with that NLP was declared in public domain. (A similar thing happened in the UK, as Bandler was convicted of receiving the trademark of NLP by fraud and fined 175,000 pounds.)
“The Bandler Group” was the group who in 1983 purchased the trademark of “The Society of NLP” after Liquidation of NOT Ltd. (Bandler’s original company) went bankrupt. This group was named “the Bandler group” and was comprised of Christina Hall, Max Steinback, M.D., Karen MacDonald, Ed and Maryann Reese, Joseph and Linda Sommers-Yeager, and Richard Morales.
The trial lasted nine days and ended on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2000. Chris Hall tells about the testimony against Bandler and those who testified in the court of Judge Yonts in Feb 2000. This included Dr. Max Steinback, John Grinder, Karen MacDonald (widow of Will MacDonald), and Christina Hall.