The Duke vs. Duke: John Wayne heirs suing university over name

Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name,” and now a California District Court is tasked with trying to come to some kind of answer as John Wayne Enterprises and Duke University are at odds over fair use of the name “Duke.”

Heirs of the movie legend are planning on marketing bottles of bourbon with an image of John Wayne holding a rifle, with his famous nickname written across it in big, bold letters. On the back of the bottle is the phrase “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”.

But Duke University has decided what it has gotta do is sue. Lawyers for the university are looking to block the sale of the alcohol with “Duke” written on the bottles because they claim the Wayne estate’s use of the name might generate confusion in the marketplace and “diminish, dilute, and tarnish” the value of the name, for which both parties currently hold a trademark.

“Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contexts for all purposes,” said attorneys for the Wayne family in a filed lawsuit. “Duke is a common word that has been used for centuries in a wide array of commercial and other applications wholly independent of Duke University. Yet by the actions alleged herein, Duke University seems to think it owns the word ‘Duke’ for all purposes and applications.”

University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld responded to the lawsuit stating, “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,” Schoenfeld said. “As Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘Words are what men live by…words they say and mean.’”

This isn’t the first time that Duke University has taken action to block heirs of The Duke from using the name for marketing purposes. The school disputed the Wayne family’s 2005 trademark application for a restaurant with the nickname and last year opposed the family’s attempt to exploit the name for the purposes of marketing a line of alcoholic beverages.