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Because It's Mine, That's Why
Steven Cohen
On page B3 of the New York Times for Saturday July 26, 2002, there's an article carrying the headline: "California Chablis? No Such Thing, Europeans Say". The story describes the efforts of many European regions to protect their rights to product names: Roquefort, Chianti, or Parma ham. Rights to names are matters of serious conflict - in fact issues where rights are the source of disagreement are fraught with complications not always easily treated by using Interest-Based Negotiation.

Interest-Based Negotiation is an excellent tool for parties whose complementary interests are best served by mutual cooperation. Even in international disputes, it is often possible to find a sufficient quantity of complementary interests to reduce hostility. Thus, for example, Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accords because each nation recognized that a continued state of war was against its own interests and that even a 'cold peace' was preferable to a 'hot war'.

Rights-Based conflicts present far greater challenges. When each party says, "This result is the only correct one because it is my right", unless some deity each party takes equally seriously dictates the outcome from on high, agreement is extremely difficult to reach. Unfortunately, most often when the question of how the 'boss' deity is to be defined, the differing parties have contrary opinions, so no single source of absolute truth emerges to bring about resolution.

Conflicts over rights take many forms. In some cases the rights involved are fundamentally commercial. Thus the ownership of the appellations of wines, cheeses, and other products identified with or invented in a particular geographic location is a matter of dealing with commercially valuable names. The same is true with product names. 'Coke' is a name owned by Coca-Cola. Years ago, when Chevrolet was developing a sporty car they tried unsuccessfully to buy the rights to the model name Cougar from the Ford Motor Company.

Because names, logos, and other commercial identifiers are themselves items that can be traded commercially, negotiations over ownership can generally be conducted using an Interest-Based approach. When it came time to divide the consulting and accounting arms of Andersen, the original name became the property of the accounting spin-off and the consultancy became Accenture.

An entire area of legal practice is based on the ownership of rights to names, formulae, and other commercially-significant information: Intellectual Property. The demise of 'Napster' was brought about by successful legal action to protect the intellectual property rights of music publishers and other elements of the music industry. Intellectual property is a commodity in which parties can have commercial interests; lawsuits may yield resolution, but negotiation is another tool for resolving the ownership of rights.

Intellectual property can be called an intangible commercial right. There are other tangible rights over which much blood has been shed: the right of a group of people to occupy a piece of land (Israel/Palestine); the right of a group of people to have greater political and economic power than another (Northern Ireland); the right of one group to have more power of governance than another (the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda). One can argue that in each of those cases it is possible to find some interest-based approach to resolve many of the conflicts about the relevant rights. Moreover, there was the apparently evanescent hope that a shared belief in a fundamentally common deity (even though the religious divide is the most visible problem) made the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland more likely to succeed.

In my experience, the most troublesome rights conflict relates to the right to a name which is claimed by people of two different nations. When it comes to naming a nationality or a region, particularly given the American phenomenon of dozens of communities in different states having the same name, it is difficult to comprehend how a 'mere' name can be a matter of enormous emotional significance.

During early July, 2003 I was teaching my negotiation course in an international MBA program in France. During a discussion of differences between interest- and rights-based issues, I used the example of the conflict between Greece and a portion of what used to be Yugoslavia over the name Macedonia. There is a province of Greece called Macedonia and, by current international usage, there is an entity called the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM). For all practical purposes, there is no common language or ethnicity - or disputed territory - claimed by the inhabitants of the Greek province and FYROM. All they share is the conflict over the use of a name. As a New Englander, where five of the six adjacent states have cities or towns called Manchester, I was mystified at the emotional significance of ownership of the name Macedonia. A Greek student in my class was having apoplexy at the mere discussion of the issue. When I suggested perhaps both groups in the conflict should dump the name entirely and use the substitute name 'Coca-Cola', she virtually stormed out of the room. After the conclusion of the seminar she told me that, in spite of her deeply felt anger over the issue, she really appreciated the absurdity of my suggested substitute name. She said she planned to run it by some friends back in Greece to see whether they like the idea - but only as a joke.

Psychologists tell us our favorite word in our native language is our own name. Good negotiators know that and try to use names as a way to enhance relationships with other parties. But we must never forget that the right to a name, however intangible, however devoid of commercial value is a right that has led to conflicts lasting centuries. Identity theft may be a commercial crime, but it is also an emotionally-charged issue that may never go away.

Steven P. Cohen is president of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. based in Pride's Crossing, MA. ( He is also a visiting professor at Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) and Groupe HEC (Jouy-en-Josas, France) and the author of Negotiating Skills for Managers (McGraw-Hill, 2002).

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Copyright ©2003, The Negotiator Magazine