There’s been a lot of stories about how I got to be called Duke. One was that I played the part of a duke in a school play—which I never did. Sometimes, they even said I was descended from royalty! It was all a lot of rubbish. Hell, the truth is that I was named after a dog!” – John Wayne, a.k.a. Duke Morrison, Duke Wayne, Duke, and The Duke

So goes the story of how Hollywood legend John Wayne got his nickname, from the mouth of The Duke himself.  Now his heirs are suing Duke University in California federal court to protect their right to further Wayne’s legacy through alcohol products such as this fine bottle of Kentucky bourbon:


Last year, Wayne’s heirs filed trademark applications for “Duke” and “Duke John Wayne,” to use the marks on “alcoholic beverages except beers, all in connection with indicia denoting the late internationally known movie star John Wayne.”  Duke University filed oppositions to the registrations citing deceptiveness, likelihood of confusion, and dilution of the university’s marks containing the word “Duke.”

Wayne’s heirs complain Duke University has never been associated with the actor and has never been in the alcohol business.  Moreover, the university “does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contexts for all purposes,” as “Duke is a common word that has been in use for centuries.”  The Wayne family now seeks a declaration that its mark registrations are not likely to cause confusion and do not dilute Duke University’s marks.  The family argues there is a real controversy here “[i]n light of the multiple oppositions and cancellation proceedings Duke University has filed,” creating a “cloud of an eventual infringement claim.”

The case is in very early stages, having been filed in early July.