The family of John Wayne has lost the first round in a trademark dispute with Duke University.

Family of John Wayne loses jurisdiction in trademark lawsuit with Duke University

October 23, 2014 7:16 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

For nearly 40 years, John Wayne starred in dozens upon dozens of westerns, war movies and other beloved films that turned him into a veritable icon of not only cinematic history but American identity. "The Duke," as he was nicknamed, was idolized by millions of children and adults alike, many of whom saw the grizzled's actor embodiment of heartland American values and tough-as-nails spirit a source of inspiration. But the North Carolina-based school Duke University, an academic and athletic powerhouse in its own right, also shares the veteran actor's nickname, a fact that recently led to litigation.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Wayne family had attempted to trademark the "Duke" nickname so that it could be used for branding on bourbon and other alcoholic offerings sold by the Newport Beach-based John Wayne Enterprises. This claim was rebuked by Duke University, though, who argued that using the name in this way could cause confusion and even lead some to believe that the school was selling or sponsoring this brand of alcohol. John Wayne Enterprises fired back that "Duke University is not in the business of selling alcohol and doesn't 'own the word Duke' in all contexts for all purposes," according to the source.

While the trademark case itself is still under consideration, the first round of litigation — determining jurisdiction — has been won in favor of the university. The lawsuit had been brought to federal district court in Santa Ana, California, where Judge David Carter ruled that the state was the "improper venue" for trial and that the responsibility for deciding whether or not the John Wayne estate can lay legal claim to the name "Duke" is one that should be taken up by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"We are pleased that the court has dismissed the lawsuit and we look forward to resolving this issue through the normal trademark process," Michael Schoenfeld, spokesman for Duke University, said in a press statement. 

Ethan Wayne, the actor's son, shot back that the university's claim that his father's nickname or likeness could ever be misconstrued as being related to the school is "preposterous," noting that the family has only "lost […] the jurisdictional dispute. We didn't lose the argument."

It remains to be seen when the trademark lawsuit will next be brought up in court.

If your business relies on intellectual property and branding that channels a specific likeness or image, it's in your best interest to have an experienced Phoenix business attorney on hand who can help navigate the waters in the event of any legal disputes.

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