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John Wayne's Inheritors Sue Duke University Over Rights to the Use of 'Duke' Trademarks

July 10, 2014, 3:29 am GMT

The heirs of John Wayne, who had famous nickname 'Duke', filed a lawsuit against the university who claims that they own 'the word 'Duke' for all purposes and applications.'



Family of John Wayne, a legendary actor who is known as "The Duke" in Hollywood film industry, sued Duke University over rights to the use of John's nickname for alcohol brand. A lawsuit to the university was filed by John Wayne Enterprises in Orange County federal court on July 3.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, John's inheritors claimed that the "Duke" trademarks, which were planned to be used as an alcoholic beverages brand, would not cause confusion among consumers although John's heirs and the university used the same brand. The complaint said, "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," the complaint continued, "Yet by the actions alleged herein, Duke University seems to think it owns the word 'Duke' for all purposes and applications."

The complaint recalled how the nickname was received by John, "While living in Glendale, Wayne had a dog named Duke. The local firefighters soon starting calling Wayne Duke too. He preferred 'Duke' to 'Marion,' and the name stuck for the rest of his life."

Meanwhile, the university, which is located in North Carolina, has allegedly fought for about a decade over the "Duke" trademarks which were planned to be used for restaurant services, gaming machines and celebrity licensing services. Last year, the university attempted to prevent John's heirs to register the trademark as a brand for all alcoholic beverages except beer.

Duke University allegedly told the U.S. trademark office, "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's inheritors refuted, "On information and belief, Duke University is a private research university. Duke University is not and never has been associated with John Wayne. Duke University is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol."

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