Graduate Students

U. of Missouri Sues a Professor in Dispute Over Royalties

January 28, 2009

The University of Missouri is suing one of its professors in an intellectual-property dispute, the Associated Press reported.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., the university accuses a professor of chemical engineering, Galen J. Suppes, and his business partner of depriving the university of an undetermined amount of royalty income on inventions that it says they developed in laboratories at the institution’s flagship campus, in Columbia.

The partner, William R. Sutterlin, received his doctorate at Columbia and worked there as a postdoctoral fellow, but is no longer affiliated with the university.

Mr. Suppes told the Associated Press that he and Mr. Sutterlin had formed a company to commercialize their work on fuel cells and other fuel-related technologies because he thought the university had a poor track record in pursuing patents on professors’ research. He said university officials had shown no interest in his efforts until he “informed them that royalties had been paid.”

The lawyer who has been handling the case for the university did not respond to the news service’s request for comment today.

While university lawsuits against their own professors are uncommon, there are precedents. Purdue University, Yale University, and the University of Massachusetts have filed similar complaints, and universities in general have become more aggressive in recent years in trying to stop professors from taking their ideas “out the back door” and commercializing their inventions themselves. —Charles Huckabee