Which Duke? Wayne's estate wants judge's opinion

Posted July 9, 2014

— 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.


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  • truth9806 Jul 10, 2014

    This ranks right up there with the the way the University handled the La-cross case.
    A little more loss of prestige.

  • lec02572 Jul 10, 2014

    There is absolutly no chance that people would think the Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon was associated with Duke University. Look at the bottle, it has a picture to John Wayne "the Duke."

  • Hammerhead Jul 10, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Also, my statement was more about how we worship entertainers instead of real heroes.

  • Hammerhead Jul 10, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I'm aware of his story, and don't disagree. I'm very patriotic also, just not in an overt way.

  • Fanny Chmelar Jul 10, 2014
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    Every time I make a sandwich with Duke's all I think about is Duke University and their delicious mayonnaise.

  • Tony Snark Jul 10, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Went by and trademarked are two different things.

  • Jim Pomeranz Jul 10, 2014

    it's hard to imagine Duke University being able to prevent the use of "Duke" in this case or any other. Now, if someone else wanted to use the word, "DOOK"...well, that's different. We all know that DOOK is and always will be those Blue Devils in Durham.

  • Scott Ryals Jul 10, 2014
    user avatar

    Might do Duke U some good to be associated with "The Duke"!

  • Robert Malton Jul 10, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    While true he never served but it wasn't because he did not want to.

    He was a patriot, there are many ways to serve.

  • this is fdup Jul 9, 2014

    Bush's Baked Beans dog is named Duke.......They wont sue him because he knows all the family secrets. "roll that beautiful been footage"