Family of John Wayne -- aka 'the Duke' -- sues Duke University in bourbon case

Family of John Wayne, aka 'The Duke,' sues Duke University in bourbon case

Who'd win in a fight? John Wayne (aka "The Duke"), or Duke University? We might soon find out.

Robert Alexander/ Streeter Lecka

John Wayne is a Hollywood legend and American icon -- renowned for his toughness and grit -- who went by the nickname "the Duke."

Duke University is a bastion of academia that also happens to have a legendary college basketball program (not to mention an up-and-coming football team).

So who'd win in a fight?

Hard to say, but sounds like we might find out in a court of law.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, John Wayne Enterprises is suing the school, claiming the university is impeding the company's efforts to produce bourbon using the "Duke" name. (Wayne's son, Ethan Wayne, is the company's president, Yahoo! News notes.)

THR reports that Duke University and the Wayne family have been at odds over multiple Duke-related trademarks for almost 10 years, but that the issue came to a head last year, when the family tried to register Wayne's nickname for alcoholic beverages.

Duke University appealed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, saying such a move would confuse the public:

"Consistent with its policies and in order to prevent tarnishment of its brand, (Duke University) does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods or services, of uncertain quality and/or unregulated by (Duke University)."

That didn't sit well with John Wayne Enterprises, which called the school's argument "ludicrous" and filed a complaint in federal court.

The company claims that the two entities' customer bases are completely different -- Duke University "is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol" -- and thus confusion among consumers would be unlikely.

"Duke University does not own the word 'Duke' in all contexts for all purposes," the complaint says. "Duke is a common word that has been in use 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."

As Yahoo notes, lost in all the legal language is the fact that John Wayne's "Duke" nickname originally had no specific significance; "Duke" was the name of Wayne's dog as a boy, and neighbors "often called the two 'Big Duke' and 'Little Duke,'" according to Biography.com.

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