Which Duke? Wayne's estate wants judge's opinion
Posted July 9, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Detailing a decade-long battle over the "Duke" brand, the estate of actor John Wayne has asked a California district court to declare that Duke University and The Duke's estate both can use the word without confusion in the market.
"Duke University seems to think it owns the word 'Duke' for all purposes," lawyers for John Wayne Enterprises wrote in paperwork filed July 3.
John Wayne Enterprises asked for a judicial declaration that "use of the JWE Marks and other similar marks are not likely to cause confusion with any of the Duke University Marks and do not infringe on any valid trademark rights of Duke University, or otherwise violate any of Duke University's rights."
The filing details various claims on the word and brand "Duke" filed by the two parties.
As early as 2005, Duke University filed opposition to JWE's plan to use "Duke" in connection with restaurant services, and the university followed up with subsequent oppositions to the Wayne estate's use of the word.
Duke University claimed that JWE's use of the word caused confusion and suggested a false connection between the actor's estate and the university.
"The actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different from the customer base of JWE," the lawyers wrote. "Likewise, the marketing channels used by Duke University to market its university-related products and services are vastly different from channels used by JWE to market its products."
Included in the filing is a single exhibit: A photograph of the label on a bottle of Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon bearing a photograph of a walking Wayne.
"JWE regards Duke University's apparent belief that the JWE Marks cause confusion and dilution as ludicrous," Wayne's lawyers wrote.
Even some people associated with Duke University agree.
"I know a lot of people named Duke, and I don't know why one would have precedence over the other," university employee Rachel Chalhoub said.
Eric Meyers, a professor of religious studies, said, most students have no idea who John Wayne is.
"Their mindset is about 15 years back, maximum," Meyers said.
Still, putting the name Duke on a bourbon bottle isn't the greatest idea, he said.
"It may be a very good-tasting drink, but I think the fact that people might associate it with Duke University and the drinking culture in college would be a bad reference to make," he said.
In a statement issued in response to the suit, Duke University quoted The Duke himself.
“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,’” Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement.