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3 October 2014Trademarks

John Wayne trademark claims thrown out of court

A US court has rejected a lawsuit filed by the heirs of the late actor John Wayne that sought to clarify whether a trademark application for his ‘Duke’ nickname infringed the rights of Duke University.

California-based John Wayne Enterprises (JWE) owns the rights to the ‘Duke’ name, image and likeness, and is trying to trademark the nickname in connection with high-end alcoholic drinks.

But it has met opposition from Duke University—not for the first time in a trademark case—which has opposed the application at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

The name ‘Duke’ originates from a dog with the same name that Wayne owned when living in California.

In July, JWE filed a lawsuit at the US District Court for the Central District of California. It wanted a ruling that its registration and use of the alcoholic-related ‘Duke’ mark would not be confused with, violate or dilute Duke University’s registrations.

In response, Duke filed a motion to dismiss the claim for a lack of personal jurisdiction over and proper venue relating to the university, which is based in North Carolina.

Therefore, this case only dealt with those allegations, not with JWE’s questions about potential trademark infringement.

In a ruling on September 30, the court agreed with Duke and granted its motion to dismiss the case.

The court said Duke’s opposition to JWE’s trademark application “does not sufficiently relate and therefore give rise to its contacts with California” and that “JWE’s claims against Duke did not arise out of Duke’s contacts with California”.

This case is just one of several associated trademark disputes between JWE and Duke at the TTAB, based at the US Patent and Trademark Office.

JWE had also tried to disqualify Duke’s counsel, but the court dismissed the motion as “moot”.

There was no oral argument in the case.

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More on this story

9 July 2014   John Wayne Enterprises, the estate of late actor John Wayne, is seeking declaratory judgment that its ‘Duke’ trademark does not create false associations with a US university.