John Wayne heirs suing Duke University over 'Duke' trademark rights

By Daniel S Levine,

John Wayne battled the baddest Western villains Hollywood filmmakers could throw at him, but now his family is facing a very big adversary in court. His estate was hoping to market alcohol with his affectionate nickname “Duke,” until Duke University stepped in to stop them. Now, the Wayne estate is suing Duke to secure the trademark for its purposes.

Wayne Enterprises (JWE) hoped to use the name “Duke” for bourbon and other alcoholic drinks, except beer. However, Duke stepped in, claiming that consumers might think that that the university was supporting alcohol. According to The Hollywood Reporter, which first reported on the lawsuit, JWE called that idea “ludicrous.”

Duke and JWE have been fighting over the use of “Duke” for years and Duke has successfully stopped JWE in the past. However, for this particular product idea, JWE is taking the university to court in California, since the North Carolina university recruits students there.

“Duke University is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol,” the lawsuit reads. “On information and belief, the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different from the customer base of JWE.”

Essentially, JWE believes that Duke is overreaching, especially since “Duke” is a relatively common word. “Yet by the actions alleged herein, Duke University seems to think it owns the word 'Duke' for all purposes and applications,” the suit reads.

A Duke spokesman later sent an email to USA Today, which reads, “While we admire and respect John Wayne's contributions to American culture, we are also committed to protecting the integrity of Duke University's trademarks. As Mr. Wayne himself said, 'Words are what men live by… words they say and mean.’”

JWE is seeking a judge’s ruling to prove that consumers won’t get confused by the name “Duke” and that it wouldn’t damage the university’s reputation.

As Hollywood lore has it, Wayne had been called “Duke” since he was a boy, since that was the name of his dog. His colleagues continued to call him that during his years in Hollywood.

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