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 / Updated  / Source: Reuters

Heirs of film star John Wayne have sued Duke University over their right to use the late Academy Award winner's nickname, "Duke," to market a line of bourbon, describing the school's protests over such branding efforts as "ludicrous." John Wayne Enterprises said it fears being sued by the private university in Durham, North Carolina, for trademark infringement unless a U.S. court intervenes. The school has challenged the heirs' plans to use the name in connection with restaurant services and alcoholic beverages.

"Duke University seems to think it owns the word 'Duke' for all purposes and applications," Wayne's heirs said in a federal complaint filed on July 3 in the Central District of California. The Wayne family business said it was "ludicrous" for the school to argue that inclusion of the nickname on commercial products would cause confusion, dilute the university's brand or falsely suggest a connection between the school and the goods.

Duke University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said on Wednesday the school would continue its fight to protect its trademarks. “While we admire and respect John Wayne’s contributions to American culture, we are also committed to protecting the integrity of Duke University’s trademarks," Schoenfeld said. "As Mr. Wayne himself said, 'Words are what men live by ... words they say and mean.’”

John Wayne is seen during the filming of "The Horse Soldiers."AP

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— Reuters