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Marion v. Blue Devils

The estate of John Wayne takes on Duke University over trademark issues related to liquor

What do you think of when you hear the word “Duke?” Does the song “Duke of Earl” come to mind? Or does your mind go to the official ball of the National Football League, sometimes known as “The Duke?” Or do you instead think of the University that is a basketball powerhouse or perhaps the tough-talking actor born Marion Morrison, but better known to the world as John Wayne?

The latter two Dukes are, well, duking it out over usage of the name in certain contexts. The estate of John Wayne wants to use the name Duke to sell liquor, but Duke University contends that this would confuse the public. So the Wayne heirs are filing suit against the University to claim a trademark for the use of Duke to sell bourbon.



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This is not the first time the two Dukes have put up their dukes in court. The University has argued at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that its policy has always been to take action against similar marks that would reflect poorly on the school.

The Wayne family, of course, points out that since the University does not make alcoholic beverages, there is little chance of confusion. It would not be the first time that John Wayne’s nickname has been used on products, such as charcoal. The family further contends that the word “Duke” is common enough that the University should not have a monopoly on using it in all contexts, especially those that do not relate to the University.

Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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