Famous Names Can Lead to Trademark Problems

If you share a name with a famous mark, you may be restricted in the use of your own name.  It is especially important to refrain from creating associations with the well-recognized brand.  Estates of the celebrity or iconic brand owner often litigate to preserve the financial value of their marks and trade dress (i.e. Hershey, Duke, Kodak, and Winston).

A recent dispute arose over the use of the term “Duke” to market a bourbon, Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  Duke University and the John Wayne Estate each have asserted claims related to the term “Duke.”  The legal issue in the Duke University case is how closely related are universities and alcohol producers?  Would customers mistakenly assume both came from the same source?  I personally do not think the average consumer would think bourbon was produced by or sponsored by an educational institution.

What are your thoughts?

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