Sun, 02 Feb 2003

What's in a name -- money, a Turkish man in Hamburg learns

Douglas Sutton, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Hamburg

A 25-year-old Turkish man in Hamburg, Mohammed Ali Turan, has become the city's most recent instant celebrity - and more than US$100,000 richer - simply thanks to his name, a bit of foresight, and a fortunate coincidence.

It's not a fancy name, Turan points out, and in fact quite a common one.

"In Turkey, Turan is as widespread as 'Schmidt' or 'Meier' are here in Germany," he told the local newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.

So what is the fuss all about? The fate and fortune of Mohammed Ali Turan are now prominently linked together with the German automotive giant Volkswagen.

VW just recently unveiled its new family van, called the "Touran", and the company found out very late in the product development stages that the name was protected, its usage rights belonging to the young man in Hamburg.

Mohammed Ali Turan, on some kind of hunch or intuition, took out the rights to his name in March, 1999 in Germany. The exact spelling is not the standard for protection of a name, but rather the phonetic pronunciation.

The fortunate coincidence is that the young Turkish man deals in car parts, so under German name copyright laws his name is protected for product labels if they are related to the automotive sector, which a Volkswagen van obviously is.

Ali Turan had almost forgotten about it when, out of the blue, he received a telefax from VW headquarters in Wolfsburg expressing interest in using his name. He thought it was some kind of joke.

"I threw the fax away in the trash can because I didn't take it seriously," he recalled. But a few days later, there was a letter for him in the mail - from a member of the VW management board.

That's when Ali Turan's business instincts took over and negotiations back and forth with VW got under way. "At first, VW did not want to pay me anything. They said the honour of see my name on a car would be reward enough."

So the car parts trader rejected the company, and in ensuing offers the stakes got bigger and bigger - 5,000 euros ($5,200), then 30,000 euros. "That wasn't enough, so I broke off the talks," he reported.

Ali Turan began negotiating again when VW made an offer of 100,000 euros ($105,000).

The final agreement, he reports, came to a "six-figure sum" clearly higher than the 100,000 euros, plus three VW cars.

Ali Turan is not divulging the final figure, but says "it is enough to invest some, save some, and to fulfill a childhood dream" - which is to attend the Formula One race in Monaco.

Every reason to smile: car components dealer Mohammed Ali Turan, who took the rights out to his name in Germany, has wrung a more than $100,000 deal with Volkswagen. VW has named its new family van the "Touran" - close enough to the young Turkish man's name to require the company to pay him compensation.