Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Battle Branding Bourbon

John wayne

Last week John Wayne’s heirs filed a lawsuit against Duke University over the family’s right to market bottles of bourbon branded with the late movie star’s nickname, Duke.  Lawyers for the university contend that allowing the Wayne estate to use the name could cause confusion and “diminish, dilute, and tarnish” the value of the name, for which both parties hold trademarks. 

In the lawsuit, the family’s lawyers make various arguments including the fact that “Duke University does not own the word ‘Duke’ in all contests and purposes.  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.” 

The proposed bourbon label would feature an image of Wayne holding a rifle with “Duke” ornamented over it in bold letters with the phrase, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

See Associated Press, John Wayne’s Heirs Sue Duke University for Right to Market ‘Duke’ Bourbon, Daily News, July 9, 2014.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


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