John Wayne was known by many of his fans as “the Duke”. Now, thirty-five years after the late actor’s death, his estate is involved in litigation with respect to the use of Wayne’s iconic nickname and image.
The Duke brand of bourbon was inspired by recently discovered bottles belonging to Wayne’s personal collection of whiskeys which have been preserved since the actor’s lifetime. John Wayne Enterprises (“JWE”), a company owned and operated by the Duke’s heirs and established to preserve John Wayne’s legacy, produces and sells the Duke brand whiskey.
Duke University and the Wayne Estate have been in dispute with respect to the use of the name “Duke” for nearly a decade. Earlier this month, JWE filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking a Declaration that the company’s use of the Duke brand for whiskey and other products does not constitute trademark infringement with respect to Duke University.
The University alleges that JWE’s use of the name “Duke” for the new bourbon line, along with the portrait of John Wayne used on labels, constitute trademark infringement. Apparently, the image of Wayne dressed as a cowboy is too similar to the logos used, and the rights of which are owned, by Duke University.
JWE argues that the University does not own the rights to the word Duke for all purposes and applications and that it is not in the business of alcohol production, distribution, marketing, or sale.
Early in his life, John Wayne owned a dog named Duke. Locals soon began to call Wayne by the same name. Since Wayne preferred Duke to his actual first name, Marion, the nickname stuck. Regardless of the outcome of the current litigation involving the actor’s estate, to his fans, it is unlikely that John Wayne will ever cease to be “the Duke.”
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