The Duke’s family takes on Duke University

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Duke University is an elite private college in Durham, N.C. Just 17 percent of those who apply to be students are accepted.

Given that, one would assume those who oversee the university would be smart — as in really, really sharp.

Yet, since 2005 Duke University has been trying to block the estate of the Duke, as in John Wayne, from using Duke as a brand for the John Wayne-related products it sells.

Three times Duke University has opposed John Wayne Enterprises’ attempts to trademark the name.

Most recently, the university filed a notice of opposition to the company’s attempt to trademark an emblem that appears on a Duke-branded bottle of small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon that includes a drawing of Wayne in cowboy garb.

Duke University contends people might be confused and think these products are associated with the school.

Really, even with the drawing of the Duke on the bottle? Now, if there were the school’s Blue Devil logo, perhaps.

But anybody who graduated middle school would instantly know the bourbon is connected to the Duke (who once said, “I never trust a man who doesn’t drink”), not Duke University.

In fact, that is exactly what the Wayne family expects. It is trying to capitalize on John Wayne’s image as a man’s man or tough-as-nails cowboy to sell more bourbon.

It makes zero sense to believe the family would want someone to think it was a bourbon connected to the university.

“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,” university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said. “Mr. Wayne himself said, ‘Words are what men live by ... words they say and mean.’”

That’s nonsense, and Duke University officials should know that.

But, being very smart folks, it’s probably in the school’s best economic interest to keep the matter in court in the hope that John Wayne Enterprises will make a financial settlement to use the Duke name.

What would the Duke do?

Exactly what his heirs are doing. Fight. John Wayne Enterprises, a Newport Beach-based corporation, is filing a lawsuit of its own in federal court contending the university has unfairly been trying for years to block its rightful use of the name.

The Duke’s heirs are correct. The university should let this one go and stop abusing the legal system.

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