International article number (EAN) is used by exporters and importers of goods to make sure that what goods they are importing or exporting matches the specifications required by their partners. This means, the same material should be known by just one name. When the importer or exporter mentions the EAN then its partner immediately knows the specifications of the material. So EANs are very important in international business.
The EAN system was devised as a European standard for countries within Europe who can use this system for exports and imports of goods. In USA, they had their own standard known as Universal Product Code (UPC). Now most of the product naming standards have been merged so that we have a common product naming and specification system. If there is a UPC number available for a product then it can easily be converted into a EAN number and vice versa.
Any material is known by many names. It is because of local language and also due to the fact that companies make their own internal definitions of materials based on their own specifications. Thus the same material is known by many names. This creates problem for customers when you are trading goods. This also creates problems for your own accounting when you have many locations from where you are doing business and at these locations, the same material is known by different names.
Due to these problems in naming conventions, a standard naming convention is much needed even for internal use. Now a days, most products sold at retail stores use EAN numbers. The bar codes used on products are in fact are EAN numbers.
In SAP, you can easily attach EAN numbers to your materials in the material master record.