John Wayne Heirs and Duke University Battle Over the Name Duke

John Wayne

The existing relatives and heirs of John Wayne, nicknamed “Duke,” are having an ongoing battle with Duke University over the use of the word Duke and Wayne’s likeness in advertising merchandise sold through the Newport Beach-based John Wayne Enterprises. The corporation is attempting to get a judge’s official declaration that both it and Duke University can use the name Duke, though the university has allegedly been trying to block its use of the word for years, according to a complaint John Wayne Enterprises filed in federal court.

The complaint alleges that Duke University has opposed the corporation’s attempts to trademark the name Duke at least three times from 2005 to 2014. In 2005, the university opposed the efforts of John Wayne Enterprises in a trademark application to use the name Duke for a restaurant the heirs planned to open. Then,

The most recent of the three attempts was when Duke University opposed John Wayne Enterprises in its attempt to trademark a stylized picture of John Wayne wearing his cowboy hat and holding a rifle that appears on bottles of Duke-branded bourbon, as well as the name “Duke,” itself, that also appears on the bottles.

John Wayne Enterprises would like both itself and the Durham, North Carolina university to be granted permission in court to use the name Duke. The position the corporation is arguing is that neither its brand nor the university’s would be diluted if they both used the name.

John Wayne got his famous nickname because he had owned a dog named Duke when he was a boy, according to the complaint field in court. Newport Beach was Wayne’s home for years. There is even a lounge called “Duke’s Place,” located at the Balboa Bay club named in honor of the True Grit star, who passed away in 1979.

Duke University “does not own the word ‘Duke,'” according to the complaint filed by John Wayne Enterprises, at least not “in all contexts for all purposes.”

Duke University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld sought to clarify the university’s position in an email. He wrote that “the use of ‘Duke’ on alcoholic beverages,” is not, in itself, something that Duke University objects to, but only if the name “is clearly linked to John Wayne’s likeness.”

Schoenfeld added, though, that the estate and heirs of John Wayne want to not only be able to use the name Duke when it is linked to Wayne’s image, but that they also want to be allowed to use the name even if it is by itself, without the likeness of the star of The Cowboys along with it. The battle over the name Duke is, like the Battle of the Alamo, something which neither side is likely to forget.

An attorney for John Wayne Enterprises, Richard Howell, disagreed with the statement in Schoenfeld’s email. He said that the corporation has suggested several times that it and Duke University enter into a co-use agreement where it would only be allowed to use the name Duke if it was on merchandise that included Wayne’s likeness, image or name, yet the university had consistently opposed this agreement in the past.

Also, Howell is of the opinion that more people worldwide are “likely to connect the moniker ‘Duke’ to John Wayne than they are to Duke University.”

It is the opinion of the heirs of the John Wayne estate that Duke University’s claim that it might cause confusion or dilute the university’s brand if John Wayne Enterprises also is allowed to use the name Duke is “ludicrous.”

The continued opposition of Duke University to allow the heirs of John Wayne, who run John Wayne Enterprises, to enter into a co-use agreement with them led the corporation to take the battle over the name Duke into the courts. There, the heirs of John Wayne filed a complaint in order to get the issue resolved. On Wednesday, Schoenfeld had no further comments to make. There has not been a court date set yet in the matter of the dueling Dukes.

Written By Douglas Cobb

Daily Pilot
San Angelo Standard Times

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