Intellectual Property Law

John Wayne's heirs sue Duke University

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John Wayne’s descendants are taking Duke University to court over the trademark rights to the word “Duke.”

John Wayne Enterprises (a company run by Wayne’s heirs) has filed suit in federal district court in Santa Ana, California, requesting a declaratory judgment that they can use the word “Duke” without infringing on the university’s trademark, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

JWE has been locked in a feud with the Durham, North Carolina-based university for several years over whether or not Wayne’s heirs could use the “Duke” name to promote its line of alcoholic beverages. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the fight has been going on for over a decade, and last year, the school tried to block JWE from registering the “Duke” trademark for alcoholic beverages other than beer. The school claimed that granting the trademark to JWE would confuse consumers, an argument that JWE finds ridiculous.

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

JWE, which is represented by the law firm Rutan & Tucker, also said that “Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke.’”

Duke University, meanwhile, seems ready for a gunfight. “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,” Michael Schoenfeld, the university’s spokesman, said in a statement. “As Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘Words are what men live by … words they say and mean.’”

If and when Duke’s attorneys fly to Santa Ana to contest the lawsuit, they’ll probably have to fly through Santa Ana’s John Wayne International Airport.

Related articles:

News & Observer: “John Wayne’s family and Duke University duke it out over whiskey name”

Washington Post: “John Wayne and Duke University in dispute over ‘Duke’ bourbon”

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