Entertainment & Arts

John Wayne heirs sue Duke University over nickname

John Wayne Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption John Wayne adopted the Duke moniker from childhood - taken from the name of the family dog

John Wayne's heirs are taking North Carolina's Duke University to court over the right to use the actor's nickname to market a line of bourbon.

It is the latest in a long-running feud between the university and John Wayne Enterprises over commercial products featuring the Duke name.

Lawyers for the university argue using the name could "diminish, dilute and tarnish" its own brand.

However, Wayne family lawyers say the claims are "ludicrous".

"Duke University does not own the word 'Duke' in all contexts for all purposes," Wayne's heirs wrote in a federal complaint filed in California.

"'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.''

An exhibit attached to the legal complaint shows a bottle of bourbon bearing the Duke name, along with an image of Wayne holding a rifle and featuring his signature.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption John Wayne won a best actor Oscar for his role in 1969's True Grit

The Wayne family has asked the court to intervene, to avoid being sued by the private university - named after a wealthy family of tobacco barons - for trademark infringement in future.

'Protecting integrity'

The school previously challenged John Wayne Enterprises' plans to use the Duke name for a restaurant in 2005. When the actor's family applied to use the name last year to market alcoholic beverages, the university objected again.

Duke University licenses its own merchandise featuring the Duke moniker and its Blue Devil's mascot.

University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the school would continue its fight to protect its trademarks.

"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," Schoenfeld said.

"As Mr Wayne himself said: 'Words are what men live by... words they say and mean.'"

The United States Patent and Trademark Office lists more than 250 active trademarks which include the word Duke, including jazz legend Duke Ellington and a brand of mayonnaise.

Born Marion Robert Morrison, Wayne used the Duke moniker from childhood when he adopted the name of the family dog.

He appeared in more than 175 films including Western classic Stagecoach and 1969's True Grit - for which he won a best actor Oscar. He died in 1979 aged 72.

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