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John Wayne’s Family And Duke University Entangled In Lawsuit Over ‘Duke Bourbon’

John Wayne's children, Patrick Wayne, Marisa Wayne, Ethan Wayne and Anita Swift
Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The estate of actor John Wayne is suing Duke University over the family’s intended use of Wayne’s legendary nickname “The Duke.” The Trinity, North Carolina school has been hit with a law suit by John Wayne Enterprises classifying the institution’s claim that the branding of “Duke” alcohol products, more specifically bourbon, would be “confusing” to consumers as “ludicrous.”

The school has been fighting with the Wayne family heirs over other “Duke” trademarks, which include gaming machines and restaurant services, for years claiming “tarnishment of its brand”  by these uses and that the university “does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods and services of uncertain quality…” Last year the research university stepped up and blocked the Wayne Family from registering the brand for all alcoholic beverages, excluding beer.

In the suit filed in Federal Court, the school, founded in 1838, is charged with “going too far” stating that the school “does not own the word ‘duke’.” The family further states the “Duke University believes that products bearing John Wayne’s world-renowned image and signature” causing confusion are “ludicrous.”

John Wayne Enterprises is now seeking declaratory judgment that there is no likelihood of confusion and that its attempts to register and use “Duke” alcohol will not dilute Duke University’s own rights. The actor, born Marion Robert Morrison, was given the moniker by firefighters in his hometown of Wayne, Iowa, in reference to his dog, Duke.

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