John Wayne Estate Sues Duke Over Booze Trademark

Duke University and the heirs of John "The Duke" Wayne are at odds over a trademark of the name for alcoholic beverages.

John Wayne Estate Sues Duke Over Booze Trademark
Insomnia Cured Here / CC BY SA 2.0

When you hear the name Duke, do you think of Holywood icon John "The Duke" Wayne... (Via Insomnia Cured Here / CC BY SA 2.0)

Or do you think of the NCAA basketball powerhouse (Via Getty Images

In the most recent flare up between Duke University and the estate of "The Duke" both sides are trying to argue the answer to that question. 

Wayne's estate is suing the University for use of the word 'Duke' in a trademark for alcoholic beverages, though not for beer. (Via USA Today)

Monument Valley Distillers announced in April they'd be working with the estate to launch Duke Spirits. On the menu? Kentucky bourbon and  reserve brandy, branded with Wayne's name and signature. Duke University wasn't crazy about it. (Via Duke Spirits)

"The university says 'not so fast,' claiming that using the name on the booze would 'diminish, dilute and tarnish the value of the name.'" ‚Äč(Via MSNBC)

The university moved to block the trademark. But the estate argues because the university doesn't sell alcohol, and probably never will, there's no reason for the confusion. That prompted the suit. (Via Justia)

But this isn't really a new dispute.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, this is just the latest episode of a nearly decade-long fight between the estate and the university over trademarks for everything from restaurant services to gaming machines. 

As a professor of trademark law quoted by NPR points out, the fact that Duke was just Wayne's nickname and not his legal name make it trickier for the estate to argue their case, saying, "even lifelong use of a nickname doesn't guarantee you the legal right to slap it on a product."

John Wayne was actually a stage name picked out for the actor, born Marion Robert Morrison, by Hollywood execs in the 1930s. Duke was reportedly his name of choice. (Via Paramount Pictures / 'True Grit')

For its part the press is having fun with the dispute, as seen in this headline from The Guardian, and this botched Western reference from Fox Business.

"I guess this town's big enough for the both of them after all – it's not big enough." 

The Wayne family reportedly plan to carry on with its business plans.