Actor’s heirs sue university over rights to ‘Duke’ nickname

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John Wayne is shown during the filming of  "The Horse Soldiers."  (AP Photo)

John Wayne is shown during the filming of “The Horse Soldiers.” (AP Photo)

SANTA ANA (CNS) – John Wayne’s heirs are suing Duke University over use of the late movie star’s “Duke” nickname, which the family wants to register for use in marketing bourbon and other alcoholic beverages, according to court papers obtained today.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Santa Ana, Wayne’s heirs have been fighting with Duke University over the name since 2005, when the North Carolina institution filed an objection to the family’s attempt to register “Duke” in connection with restaurant services.

Wayne was known as “Duke” throughout his five-decade movie career.

Last year, the school objected once again when John Wayne Enterprises tried to register “Duke” for all alcoholic beverages except beer, alleging that its use could cause confusion with Duke University’s goods and services, according to the lawsuit, which was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

“We admire and respect John Wayne’s contributions to American culture, but as The Duke himself once said, ‘Words are what men live by — words they say and mean,'” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University’s vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Wayne’s family argues in the July 3 complaint that since the university is not in the business of marketing alcoholic drinks, “the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different” from the audience for Wayne bourbon.

“Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contexts and purposes,” according to the lawsuit.

An image of a bottle of “Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon” depicted as Exhibit A in the suit shows Wayne’s image and signature on the label.

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