Duking It Out: John Wayne’s Estate Sues Over Right To Use “Duke” After Duke University Claims Ownership

240px-John_Wayne_-_1961UnknownWe have previously discussed the absurd growth of trademark and copyright claims in this country. Now, John Wayne’s descendants have had to go to court to seek the right to continue to use the legendary actor’s nickname, “Duke,” over the objections of Duke University which now claims to own the word “Duke.” The University has objected to a line of alcoholic beverages by the family called “Duke.” They appear to be using the line from the Duke’s character Wil Anderson in The Cowboys (1972) “I wouldn’t make it a habit of calling me that son.”

I must confess a bias as an old Cowboys Western addict. However, in my defense, I have long been a critic of growing copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). (For a prior column, click here and here).

QbQv9.AuSt.156It appears that the feud with the university has been going on for years. The school then tried to block the registration of a Duke trademark for the line of alcoholic beverages. The University implausibly argued that a line of drinks named Duke would confuse consumers with the university. (I suppose consumers would think that this was liquid education or that they could drink their way to a degree. Of course, with the infamous Duke Lacrosse case, perhaps Duke thinks alcohol and its institution is some type of signature relationship). The claim is even more excessive when one looks at the label which clearly shows “The Duke” rather than Washington Duke. (Of course, if it were Duke tobacco, that would come closer to the real source of the Duke fortune).

The very notion of owning a noun like “Duke” continues to shock many people as it does me. However, Congress and the Obama Administration has continued to yield blindly to demand of lobbyists for increasing sanctions and criminal prosecutions for copyright and trademark violations.

220px-John_Wayne_portraitDuke seems undeterred by taking on the Duke in a trademark shootout. Michael Schoenfeld, the university’s spokesman, said in a statement. “As Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘Words are what men live by … words they say and mean.'” Well, sure, but he also said in True Grit, “Young fella, if you’re looking; for trouble I’ll accommodate ya”

86 thoughts on “Duking It Out: John Wayne’s Estate Sues Over Right To Use “Duke” After Duke University Claims Ownership

  1. I have to question the intelligence of a university that tries to trademark a common name such as “Duke”. Will they be going after Bush beans next for the name of their spokesman dog “Duke”?

  2. Is this the same Duke president that convicted the lacrosse players before their trial? I’m a fan of The Duke. There is a museum dedicated to him in Iowa, his birthplace. Ironically, he grew up just 10 mikes from the great, Bob Feller. You can hit both their museums w/ a 15 minute drive. The John Wayne Museum has been successful and they are currently constructing a new facility, due to open next May.

  3. Wouldn’t the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (http://www.ellingtonschool.org/) have the same claim as Duke University? Who are they going after next, all owners of dogs named Duke? All restaurants named “Duke’s.” Just Google “Duke’s.” There are millions of companies and products.

    Do we know who is behind the ridiculous suit?

  4. My guess is that if you polled the American public and asked them to list three things they associate with the word “Duke,” fewer than 50% of the lists would include Duke University.

  5. I think that the Duke football team should play USC (Duke’s old team), winner take all. It is the manly way. None of this meet you it court wussy stuff.

  6. I’m not a fan of the misogynist, fists-or-guns-to-settle-all-arguments, Duke, but this lawsuit is silly. One Duke’s name for a university, another man’s well-known nickname for booze. Although, if the university may have a point if they are making a sincere effort to cut binge drinking on campus. What would a gung-ho student at the university drink but that named for the university.

  7. Hopefully the courts will solve this mess by telling the University that no one owns the word or name, Duke.

  8. The arrogance of the university and its obvious greed in taking this action but the ultimate “wag of the finger” goes to the courts who have allowed this kind of ridiculous protection of ordinary processes and words to be patented, copyrighted or trademarked.

  9. Two things:
    1) “Smoke em if ya gottem.” This was John Wayne’s statement to the squad when they broke for a break in the jungles of Nam in the movie The Green Berets. Wayne was a paid tobacco promoter. So, the University and John Wayne have something in common.

    2) Statue in front of the so called university of the Duke founder smoking a cigarette.

    These two things point to one thing. Both John Wayne and the Founder are idiots who were smart enough to make money of the product which has killed millions.

    Both the university (so called) and the dumb Wayne family should have a right to the name Cancer. They both are a cancer on our society.

    One more thing:
    Duke, Duke, Duke,
    Duke of Earl!
    Duke of Earl. Duke Duke

  10. Sorry, Nick. The Washington Redskins had their trademark revoked recently.

    Further, the university will lose. Their servicemark is in a different trade category than the beer trademark. The patent office would allow both because they don’t overlap in area of commerce, and thus would not be confusing to consumers. Consequently, a judge should rule against the university. The suit is a bad use of (public?) money by them, as it is destined to lose in every way except maybe PR and name recognition value.

  11. I haven’t seen the University of Washington upset about an even more formidable alcoholic beverage…

  12. Karen S: Which Duke? Duke of Earl? Duke of Marlborough? Oh, yeah another cigarette promoter. Duke of Puke? Duke of Lancaster as in Burt?

    John Wayne was a dumb Duke who wore a cowboy hat and couldn’t rope a dead rat.

  13. Darren, I bet you’ll see that vodka @ UW football game tailgates. That is a great venue, being able to drive your boat to the game and tailgate! But, the NCAA basketball champs, men and women, UConn Huskies should also be a party to this suit. And, they should lose!

  14. J. Brian w/ an uncharacteristic quick quip. Your comments are always thought provoking and witty, but hardly ever one liners. I think the one liners will get some who skip over your long comments to give them a read. That may not have been your plan but serendipity is a major factor in our lives.

  15. Al, I agree. What is with the John Wayne worship? He was no better an actor than any known actors of his time. He seemed like a jerk to me.

  16. Annie wrote “He was no better an actor than any known actors of his time.”

    The vast majority of people who were 12 or older by 1976, the year of his last movie, would disagree with you. The fact that he starred in 142 films proves that the studios knew he was a top actor capable of drawing in the crowds.

    P.S. Do an Internet search using Duckduckgo, Bing, or Google on “the duke” and see what the top listing is.

  17. Annie

    Al, I agree. What is with the John Wayne worship? He was no better an actor than any known actors of his time. He seemed like a jerk to me.
    And the “unintended consequences” are little known:

    The Act of Killing focuses on Anwar Congo, one of the self-proclaimed “gangsters” who executed over a million suspected Communists and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia during the bloodbath of 1965-66. Congo, much like his fellow executioners that he remains friends with, has yet to face prosecution for the war crimes he committed as a younger man and lives as a national hero.

    Congo is a man who appears to live in an eternal cinematic fantasy. He’s always dressed sharp—inspired by his Hollywood heroes John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley. What exactly inspired him to murder a thousand people is never quite explained. The only slight ever mentioned that he takes from the communists was their desire to block screenings of his beloved American films. Tapping into this love of cinema, Oppenheimer offers him the opportunity to tell his story by making a dramatic film in which he’s the star of his own story.

    This does not end up being The Act of Killing itself, but a meta film-within-a-film that allows Congo to tell his own story as he chooses to see it, guts and all. He casts his own friends, adds a romantic subplot where one of his friends dresses in drag, and even has musical finale at the foot of a waterfall where his own victims thank him for murdering [them]. But despite all of these flourishes, he manages to stay true to the story in the recreation of his preferred method of execution.

    (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala – 2). In that movie there is a scene where all the people that the “Duke” worshiper murdered are thanking him for murdering them.

  18. Duke University needs to sue Wayne State University for causing confusion between the school and The Duke .. er, John Wayne … which in turn confuses the public and suggests that Duke University may really in Detroit, MI. Wayne Newton may be suing to establish that he is not a University in Detroit but really lives in Los Vegas, and Los Vegas will be suing GM over confusion that the city might really be the Spanish phrase for a group crappy cars made in the 70s by Chevrolet.

    I am very confused.

  19. It is anachronistic to judge John Wayne, and his contemporaries, for smoking. He was already addicted to nicotine before studies came out that smoking was dangerous. He got the habit when smoking was extremely common, and he promoted a product he enjoyed.

    I blame people who start smoking now, when it’s common knowledge that it is carcinogenic and addictive.

    John Wayne is a Hollywood Hall of Fame actor who helped make Westerns extremely popular. Few actors had his screen presence, certainly not nowadays. Like Gene Autry, he was a role model of honorable behavior and the Cowboy Code to young people. Nowadays, we have more movies glorifying crime and murder, violence against women, and generally bad behavior. The Cowboy Code is considered quaint while at the same time people bemoan the loss of civility, manners, and honor in today’s society.

    People who don’t like Westerns might not care for John Wayne, but regardless, he is a film icon.

  20. nick:

    “Of course The Dukes real name is Marion Morrison.”


    A new suit by Marion Motley is in the offing charging confusion over the huge African-American fullback for the Browns with Duke University, John Wayne, and Mötley Crüe.

  21. Saucy, well that may be so, but I still never thought his movies were worth my time watching. Each to their own I suppose.

  22. mespo is on fire. Cocktail hours usually start early on summer Fridays. My old man loved Marion Motley.

  23. Annie, you originally wrote, “He was no better an actor than any known actors of his time,” not, “I thought X, H, and C were much better actors than JW.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when you phrase it as a statement of fact, you must be correct.

    Karen S wrote “It is anachronistic to judge John Wayne, and his contemporaries, for smoking”

    Ignore the village idiot Al Zheimers. You are correct. Only imbeciles smoke today because it has been conclusively proven to cause great harm, but warnings were not added to cigarette packs until 1966. Another person who died from smoking was Gene Tierney, who started smoking because she felt her voice was too high.

  24. The powers that are in control are NOT going to let up until they own it all, and we just pay the rent.

  25. The Green Berets was a movie that promoted the Vietnam War and smoking. This was late in John Wayne’s career and he should have known that smoking was dangerous, a hazard to your health, as the Surgeon General said. Millions of Americans have died due to smoking and I blame the likes of both Dukes.

  26. Different era. I have old Sport magazines. Athletes did ads for cigarettes for chrissake. I know folks hate The Duke because he was a Republican. But, the very liberal Dick Cavett did a piece on meeting Wayne and just how he was amazed @ his literacy and depth.

  27. John Wayne was a John Bircher but publically denounced them and was instrumental in having that society become marginalized. Wayne was anticommunist but was repulsed by their whacky turn in the 60’s.

  28. He was an average actor @ best. Just like Robert Redford. One was a Republican movie star, the other is a Dem movie star. There are actors, and there are movie stars.

  29. HumpinDog wrote “The Green Berets was a movie that promoted the Vietnam War and smoking. This was late in John Wayne’s career and he should have known that smoking was dangerous”

    Warnings were not added to cigarette packs until 1966, but work began on The Green Berets in 1965, filming was completed in 1967, and the movie released in 1968. The movie did promote the Vietnam War, but to say that it promoted smoking is downright ignorant given the standards of the time.

  30. TheSaucyMugwump (@TheSaucyMugwump)

    HumpinDog wrote “The Green Berets was a movie that promoted the Vietnam War and smoking. This was late in John Wayne’s career and he should have known that smoking was dangerous”

    Warnings were not added to cigarette packs until 1966, but work began on The Green Berets in 1965, filming was completed in 1967, and the movie released in 1968. The movie did promote the Vietnam War, but to say that it promoted smoking is downright ignorant given the standards of the time.
    The same aliens who fostered smoking fostered global warming denial, and still change the diapers of denialists.

    Ignorance has its intimate moments.

  31. Nick wrote “He was an average actor @ best”

    Since I hammered Annie, I will hammer you. Your statement is demonstrably false given that he is #13 on AFI’s list of 25 greatest male screen legends. His style appealed to the vast majority of people who attended movies. And given that his era ended just before the advent of VHS / Betamax videotape machines, let alone DVDs, we can conclude that people voted with their feet (and wallets) to see him. He was a cash cow.

    Robert Mitchum, another person who died from smoking, was one of my favorite actors, but I would never make a definitive statement that he was one of the all-time greats (he’s #23 on AFI’s list). And most people today have no idea who Greta Garbo was, but she was #5 on AFI’s list of 25 greatest female screen legends, even though her last movie was released in 1941.

  32. Imagine the money you could make if you could trademark the word “it.”

    Why not; considering…


    “This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google, which long ago trademarked “Google Glass,” is experiencing some difficulty in the next stage of its IP journey: trademarking the word “glass” itself.

    I know, I know—get out your small violin™.

    But while it’s tempting to, as many have, make fun of Google’s attempt to trademark a word that has been with us since the 12th century … it’s also worth remembering that Google isn’t alone in its attempts to make all the world a mark. On the contrary: trademarking is a time-honored, and in many ways legally responsible, tradition among the major tech companies.

    Here, with that in mind, is an extremely partial list of tech trademarks both attempted and won.

    Apple has tried to trademark the word “startup.”

    Apple and Amazon have faced off in court over the use of the term “app store.”

    Amazon has successfully filed for trademarks for the terms “Prime,” “I want one!,” “of note,” “look inside,” and “Earth’s biggest.”

    Facebook has tried to trademark the word “book.”

    Facebook has successfully trademarked “F,” “Face,” “FB,” and “Wall.” Oh,
    and also “Facepile.”

    Instagram has tried to stop other apps from using “Insta,” “Gram,” and “IG.”

    Microsoft has trademarked the word “haunt.”

    Microsoft has tried to trademark the term “age of mythology” and the words “natural” and “rare.”

    Samsung has filed for trademarks on the terms “dark screen” and “finger scanner.”

    Skype has trademarked the word “silk.”

    Twitter has trademarked the word “tweet.”

    Zynga has trademarked the term “with friends”—and has sued other companies over their use of it.


  33. Saucy, You are a tunnel vision person. I loved John Wayne. But, I am a professional objectivist. He was not a great actor, He was a great MOVIE STAR. Great actors often don’t get big box office. The recently deceased Phillip Seymour Hoffmann was a great actor. He was not a movie star. His flicks did average @ best box office receipts. He was an exponentially better actor than The Duke. I loved both The Duke and Hoffmann. So, let me show my objectivity. I loathe Sean Penn. But, Sean Penn who I loathe, is a better actor than John Wayne, who I love.

    Your comment of 3:39pm is all over the place, as is often the case in your stream of consciousness ways. I like you, but I also think you’re often out of your league when you discuss certain topics. My liking you will not influence my critiquing you. In acting, although awards have politics involved, you can tell who are the good actors by who gets nominated and win Oscars. The Duke got a pity Oscar for True Grit as he was dying. He was one of the greatest movie stars, not one of the greatest actors. Can’t we both agree we loved his flicks and have a beer?

  34. John Wayne movies extolled violence. He consistently used his fists or his guns to settle any dispute, no matter how inconsequential. His movies were also demeaning to women. The last movie I saw was one where he chased his “love” down the public street, ripped off her dress, and then publicly spanked her. This may be great theater to those who go for that kind of “role model” but it turned my stomach. I walked out of the theater and never again wasted my money on one of his movies. That scene made me realize that that was the John Wayne treatment of women in nearly all of his movies. Tough guy role model…. Blech….

  35. bk, It should not come as a shock to you that you weren’t the demographic he was seeking. Additionally, you and many show a lack of understanding history in context. What are your thoughts on Huck Finn?

  36. Saucy, IMBD has a better list of “actors”, Top 100. They have the Duke in the middle[47] w/ guys like Alan Arkin, William Holden, etc. That’s consistent w/ my take. The Duke played himself. Great actors can stretch themselves so you don’t see the actor, you see the character. Actually, character actors are some of my favorites, Billy Bob Thornton, Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Rockwell, etc.

  37. TheSaucyMugwump, thank you for bringing your last comment to my attention. It was indeed in violation of the civility rule and has been deleted.

  38. Nick,

    “Additionally, you and many show a lack of understanding history in context.”

    Yes, you have certainly shown a great understanding of history in your two years here as a frivolous commenter. Always digging with the, “and many,” yet your contributions rarely go beyond your immediate life experiences.

  39. You know some modern actors that I enjoy are Meryl Streep (she is a chameleon; she just disappears into really different roles), Robert Downey, Jr (he’s a phoenix who rose from the ashes and started caring about the craft), Jim Caviezel, and William Hurt and Mark Strong are really changeable character actors. It’s rare to find actors that portray realistic emotions on screen.

    It is true that John Wayne always brought his own style to characters. That was his draw, that these roles matched him. I am not aware of his ever playing a real villain, although he was a bit dissipated in a few of his films, like True Grit. I don’t think his audience would have been satisfied if he played someone really different, like a weak character or a villain. Women had crushes on him, and men wanted to be him. I still remember an I Love Lucy episode where he played himself.

  40. Being a PI, I’m always skeptical of people like this new arrival, Paolo. Never seen this alleged person and all of a sudden he arrives out of nowhere, takes a shot @ me alleging knowledge of 2 years, and then BK within 2 minutes gives him an “Attaboy.” I can abide taking shots from people I know, but anonymous people and then a regular. Come on folks, let’s be real. In the words of The Who, Paolo, “Who the f@ck are you?” BK seems like she needs an enforcer. But, she needs someone tougher than this Paolo troll!!

  41. Nick,

    “. . . alleging knowledge of 2 years . . .”

    This is the time-frame you stated — just a few days ago in some other thread — for your time involvement at this blog. I took you at your word — is this a mistake?

    “Being a PI, I’m always skeptical of people like this new arrival, Paolo.”

    I understand. However, your being a PI means nothing when it comes to history that you claim others miss. Your skepticism of, “new arrival[s],” suggests your basic nature — one of bombast and suspicion with little depth — a playground bully.

    “. . . takes a shot @ me . . .”

    I, “take a shot at you,” because this is your method.

  42. Nick,

    Have you not harked new arrivals at this blog when it suits your purpose? Why should I be suspect? Should I not be granted the same welcome you extend to others?

  43. Saucy: Your assumption falsely relies on the notion that AFI’s ratings mean anything. Ranking actors and artists is a subjective exercise and box office earnings are an imperfect measure of an actors ability. Popularity could relate to the amount of promotional money spent on promoting a movie or actor. Otherwise, Harry Dean Stanton would be higher on that list/

    The thing about John Wayne is that he was the perfect “type” for several of the roles for which he’s remembered, like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man, both classics.

  44. Nick,

    “In the words of The Who, Paolo, ‘Who the f@ck are you?'”

    Your disingenuousness is evident with the above ampersand.

    Why care who I am; ignore, or engage with facts removed from your Goldilocks homilies.

  45. Nick,

    “. . . this Paolo troll!!”

    There are many kinds of trolls. You represent the persistent variety; much like an evening guest that never leaves after eating all the food; extolling life experiences while waiting for breakfast.

  46. Darren,

    Then, we have the epitome of obtuseness posting a self-portrait; so clever in its exhausted use of false civility.

  47. KarenS, Streep is a great actress, I just don’t like her. I really like Laura Dern, a character actor like her old man, Bruce Dern. Sandra Bullock has really evolved into a good actress. Robert Downey, Jr. is someone I really respect. He fights the relentless disease of addiction and uses that energy in his performances. He has a flick coming out later this summer, The Judge. Downey says it is the role he has been looking for all his life. He plays a hotshot criminal defense attorney. The clips look great. Robert Duvall plays his a-hole father, Billy Bob Thornton plays the prosecutor.

  48. Hillary Swank is an actress I really like. She has not been around much. Her performance in Million Dollar Baby was incredible. Clint can make movies and get the best out of his actors. Frances McDormand is another actress I don’t see enough.

  49. RTC,
    While I do not put John Wayne in the great actor category, he was perfect in the Quiet Man, but his entourage of actors that were in QM and many others with him, made it an ideal film.

  50. raff, Ward Bond was a great character actor John Wayne had in many of his flicks. Bond was so ardent a John Bircher he had trouble getting movie roles. There was the blacklisting and then the backlash @ the ardent anticommunists. Bond salvaged his career w/ the TV show Wagon Train. When The Duke say the Birchers getting really whacky he admonished them and told Ward Bond to do the same. But, Bond hated commies and would not. Walter Brennan is another Bircher who stayed w/ them when they got too far right and he to was blacklisted from movies. As we know, TV also salvaged Brennan’s career w/ The Real McCoys.

  51. I read that Stanley Kubrick once considered John Wayne for the role of Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove but he declined. Instead Slim Pickens played the role. In my view Slim was the best choice of all. After all, who could say…

    “Well boys I guess this is it. Nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Rooskies”

    …better than Slim Pickens.

  52. Darren, Quite ironic. The Duke became more and more dismayed w/ what John Birchers were saying. But, when they claimed fluoridation of water was a commie plot was when he left the organization. And, being a lover of that great flick, you know the importance of “precious bodily fluids” in the plot.

  53. The Quiet Man: another film where the Wayne character humiliates his wife in front of the whole town and settles a dispute with a fight.

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