John Wayne heirs and Duke University Locked in Trademark Dispute

trademark litigation lawyer

John Wayne’s heirs and Duke University are locked in a trademark dispute.  Call it a case of basketball meeting bourbon.  Duke University is upset that John “the Duke” Wayne’s descendants are interested in selling bourbon with the actor’s image and nickname on the bottle.  Earlier this year, the university filed a statement of opposition against the Wayne family’s “Duke Bourbon” mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Now John Wayne Enterprises has sued the Durham, North Carolina, university in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, asking the court to clarify the scope of the university’s trademarks.

According to a CNN report, the Wayne family alleges that Duke University’s allegations that “Duke Bourbon can cause ‘confusion and dilution’ that hurts the school’s recruiting and reputation ‘is ludicrous.’”  The Wayne family contends that “Duke University ‘has never been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol’ but the school, ‘seems to think it owns the word “Duke” for all purposes and applications.’”

The Wayne family is seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no likelihood of confusion, and that use of ‘Duke Bourbon’ would not dilute or infringe upon Duke University’s trademarks.

CNN reports that the university has yet to file a response, but a university spokesman told CNN that, “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.  As Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘words are what men live by…’”

Filing a statement of opposition with the USPTO, as Duke University did here, or asking the court for a declaratory judgment, like the one requested by the Wayne family, are strategic methods of protecting your company’s intellectual property.  If you have trademark questions, or if your business needs help with competitors infringing on your company’s trademarks, or has received a notice of alleged trademark infringement, you need a smart, experienced business litigation attorney to represent your interests.

James J. “Jim” Thomas II has more than 35 years of experience advising Georgia businesses and handling complex business litigation including intellectual property matters like trademark infringement.  Jim can help you with the analysis, evaluation, and resolution of existing and potential litigation including in intellectual property disputes. Visit online, or give Jim a call at 404-869-5248 to set up a free consultation.

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