Lawsuit by actor John Wayne's heirs over 'Duke' nickname dismissed

Thu Oct 2, 2014 3:01pm EDT
 
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By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the heirs of film star John Wayne against Duke University over their right to register the late Academy Award winner's nickname, "Duke," in connection with a line of bourbon.

John Wayne Enterprises asked a court in July to find that its use of the name would not cause confusion or dilute the brand of the private university in Durham, North Carolina, as the school contended.

The university and Wayne's heirs are locked in a dispute before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over rights to the name.

U.S. District Judge David Carter ruled on Tuesday that the Central District of California, where Wayne's heirs separately sued the university, was not the proper venue.

The judge said John Wayne Enterprises "may have a compelling argument against the scope of Duke's trademarks" but did not rule on the suit's merits.

Duke University spokesman Michael Schoenfeldsaid on Thursday: "We are pleased that the court has dismissed the lawsuit, and we look forward to resolving this issue through the normal trademark process."

A California attorney for John Wayne Enterprises said the university was avoiding a fight it started with the "nonsense argument that it essentially owns the word 'duke' for all purposes."

"The University has not obtained any authority to halt John Wayne Enterprises from continuing to use the Duke moniker exactly as it sees fit," attorney Richard Howell added. "As John Wayne himself said, 'There are some things a man just can't run away from.' The university continues to run, but it can't hide forever."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)