- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

A long-running dispute between the family members of John Wayne — a.k.a. Duke — and Duke University over the rights to the deceased star’s nickname has hit the federal court circuit, with heirs claiming the school has no right to keep them from marketing and selling a bourbon product named after the actor.

Duke University lawyers say the bourbon brand Duke could confuse people and “diminish, dilute and tarnish” the school’s image, the New York Daily News reported.

California-based John Wayne Enterprises officials, however, argue in documents filed in federal court that Duke actually took the nickname from his family dog, when he was just a boy.

The planned bourbon bottle would include an image of Mr. Wayne holding a rifle, along with the word “Duke” and the phrase: “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” court documents said.


“Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contests and purposes,” lawyers for the family said in the lawsuit, the New York Daily News reported.

Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Photo courtesy dukespirits.com
Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Photo courtesy dukespirits.com more >

“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.”

Duke University was actually named after a Durham, N.C., tobacco baron, the New York Daily News reported.

“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,” said Michael Schoenfeld, a spokesman for the university, in the New York Daily News. “As Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘Words are what men live by — words they say and mean.’”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has more than 250 trademarks on its active list that mentions the word “Duke.”