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Hermes vs Hermes: Turkish bookseller takes on French giant



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Lady Justice. Credits: Illustration: Jackie Mallon.

It's a case of Hermes vs Hermes. One, the global luxury goods giant based in Paris, is suing the other, a cosy bookseller tucked away in a Turkish seaside town, over alleged trade name infringement.

Umit Nar, who owns the Sahaf Hermes store in the Aegean coast city of Izmir, argues that he has been in business for 15 years and never once been mistaken for a French luxury goods maker.

In fact, Nar told AFP, the name "Hermes" comes from the ancient Greek god of trade and belongs to everyone.

"Hermes, Zeus or Santa Claus belong to the cultural heritage of humanity," the 51-year-old said.

"No company should be able to monopolise these names, which are anchored in our collective memory."

Nar's troubles began in December 2021, when he applied to register his bookstore's name as a trademark.

"Sahaf" means "secondhand bookseller" in Turkish.

He was a secondhand bookseller blessed by the ancient Greek god of trade, Nar thought, a clever name he wanted to register with the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office (TurkPatent).

'It's not fair'

That move was noticed by the French giant's office in Turkey, which petitioned TurkPatent and the courts to halt the trademark registration.

It also sought to prohibit the owner from using the name "Hermes" in its commercial and online activities.

The French company did not respond to several AFP requests for comment.

But in its court filing, the French manufacturer pointed to the "similarity and the risk of confusion" between the two brands, despite their involvement in different sectors.

The first hearing in the trial was held last month, and a second has been scheduled for March 27.

But instead of sitting around and hoping for the best, Nar has decided to argue his case through a social media campaign, with the ultimate goal of drawing attention of the brand's Paris headquarters.

"If I had opened a shoe or textile store with the name Hermes, it would be understandable, but our fields are so different," Nar said.

"Hermes sells luxury leather bags for thousands of euros, and I am selling second-hand books worth 15 Turkish lira (45 cents)," he said.

"The argument that we can be confused is ridiculous. It's also an insult to the intelligence of their clients."

Nar, who also heads Turkey's secondhand booksellers' association, said a name change would be calamitous for his business.

"Most people know me as Sahaf Hermes, and not by my real name," he said. Moreover, the god Hermes is closely associated with the history of Izmir, which the ancient Greeks called Smyrna when it was under their control.

"It's not fair that an international company can confiscate a cultural element," Nar said.(AFP)