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Duke University Sued by John Wayne’s Heirs
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Everyone knows the nickname of actor John Wayne. “The Duke,” as he was affectionately known, starred in hundreds of movies during his career. Now, his family is upset with Duke University for the use of the name, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The school has been sued by John Wayne Enterprises that criticizes the idea of “Duke” alcohol because it will confuse consumers.


The lawsuit discusses how Wayne got his nickname. He was born Marion Robert Morrison, but his dog’s name was Duke. Firefighters in the Iowa hometown of Wayne’s nicknamed him “The Duke” and it stuck.

“The movie business — and the country — would never be the same,” the lawsuit states.

The school has been fighting with the family over “Duke” trademarks for close to a decade. They have fought over gaming machines, restaurant services and celebrity licensing services. Just last year, the school intervened when the family tried to register “Duke” for all types of alcohol except for beer.

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The Trademark Office was told the following by the school:

“Consistent with its policies and in order to prevent tarnishment of its brand, [Duke University] does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods or services, of uncertain quality and/or unregulated by [Duke University].”

John Wayne Enterprises is now headed to federal court to fight the objection by the school. The family has asserted jurisdiction in the Central District of California because the school recruits students from the region, sells merchandise in the region and maintains alumni associations in the region.

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

The complaint continues with, “Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contexts for all purposes. Duke is a common word that has been in use for centuries in a wide array of commercial and other applications wholly independent of Duke University. Yet by the actions alleged herein, Duke University seems to think it owns the word ‘Duke’ for all purposes and applications.”

The heirs to “The Duke” explain what the school wants to trademark:

“Apparently, Duke University believes that products bearing John Wayne’s world-renowned image and signature, like the bottle of bourbon depicted in Exhibit A attached hereto, will somehow be confused as being associated with Duke University. The bottle of bourbon in Exhibit A is imprinted with ‘Monument Valley Distillers.’ John Wayne’s image and signature are prominently featured on the label, along with the words ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Small Batch’ and the image of a shot gun shell casing. Suffice to say, as is evident from Exhibit A, JWE regards Duke University’s apparent belief that the JWE Marks cause confusion and dilution as ludicrous.”



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