John Wayne’s family and Duke University are riding a litigious path into the sunset. The American icon's heirs have sued the academic institution for the right to market bottles of bourbon using the word "Duke," the late legend’s famous nickname, reports the AP. The bottles feature an image of Wayne carrying a rifle, with "DUKE" superimposed over the image in a red, blocky serif font, as seen in the Los Angeles Times. Lawyers for the university say that the Wayne estate could cause confusion and "diminish, dilute, and tarnish" the Duke name if it’s used for the bourbon label. The Wayne family complaint counters that the college "does not own the word 'Duke' in all contexts for all purposes" and that the university has never "been in the business of marketing alcohol," so it shouldn’t worry that consumers will think the bourbon is school-sanctioned.
What complicates matters is that both the Wayne family and the college have trademarks for the Duke name (the university was named for a wealthy North Carolina tobacco family in the early 1900s). A rep for the university is tapping into the late actor’s own words to back its case: "As Mr. Wayne himself said, 'Words are what men live by, words they say and mean.'" On the flip side, Wayne’s official website quotes Wayne as saying, "I never trust a man who doesn’t drink." The AP notes that the US Patent and Trademark Office lists more than 250 active trademarks that include the word "Duke," among them ones linked to Duke Ellington and a mayo brand. The real party who should be complaining here? Probably the Wayne family’s long-deceased dog, whose name initially inspired John to adopt the nickname as a child. (Read more John Wayne stories.)