Galen Suppes, a former MU chemical engineering professor, was ordered to pay $600,000 in damages after a 12-person jury voted in favor of the UM System Board of Curators on Wednesday in an intellectual property lawsuit.
The jury found him liable for two of the three claims alleged by the curators: that he was in violation of his contract with the UM System and for working in competition against the system.
In a statement Wednesday night, the UM System affirmed the ruling.
“The university will continue to protect its intellectual rights, as well as those of the faculty and taxpayers. Protecting and commercializing the intellectual property created by university researchers is pivotal to the growth and strength of our research and economic development programs,” the statement read.
The case, which began Aug. 25, involved technology Suppes developed that converts glycerin to acetol, propylene glycol and antifreeze.
The curators sued Suppes in April of 2009, claiming he had filed for patents on inventions and assigned rights to outside entities without approval from the UM System.
Suppes then countersued a few months later. On Tuesday, presiding Judge Gary Lynch granted a motion filed by the defense to dismiss all counts in Suppes’ counterclaim.
Suppes licensed the propylene glycol technology to the Mid-America Research and Development foundation in 2005 through Renewable Alternatives, a company he started in 2002, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Attorney Russell Jones, representing the UM System, said that in assigning the exclusive rights to the technology to his company rather than UM System, Suppes breached his contract with the system.
According to the collected rules and regulations of UM, the system owns the rights to all inventions developed within the inventor’s scope of employment. When a university employee invents something, the person must fill out an invention disclosure form for the university, assigning the university the rights to their invention.
If the inventor believes that the invention was made outside of the scope of their employment, the person can request a waiver, allowing them rights to the invention. An employee is not allowed to file for a patent unless the university has waived its rights to the invention.
The UM system argued that the technology was developed with university equipment on university property, and thus belonged to the university.
Suppes’ defense attorney, George Smith, argued that both Renewable Alternatives and the system owned the technology.
But Jones told the jury that on 34 occasions, Suppes altered forms, either changing or deleting the language that would grant the system the rights to his inventions.
Jones argued that these actions caused delays that cost the system time and money in addition to harming relationships the university had with other companies, specifically Senergy Chemical Corp. Jones said that the total loss to the university due to Suppes’ actions was $3.7 million.
“This was greedy and this was wrong,” Jones said.
When confronted about his actions, Suppes blamed others for what went wrong, Jones said.
“One name was missing from the list of people he was blaming,” Jones said. “That name was Galen Suppes.”
But Suppes’ attorney argued there was no proof that those actions actually cost the university money. Smith said there were no records of employees working overtime or of the university hiring more employees to address the issues involving Suppes — that if Suppes refused to sign something, it was not with the intention to harm the university’s relationships with anyone.
“That’s crazy,” Smith said.
The jury deliberated for three hours before reaching a verdict:
The jury found 10-2 that Suppes breached his contract with the university by failing to assign invention rights to the university.
The jury found 9-3 that Suppes did not interfere in business relationships between the university and other companies.
The jury found 10-2 that Suppes failed in his loyalty to the university and acted in direct competition to the UM System over the propylene glycol technology.
Suppes was ordered to pay $600,000 in damages to the UM System.
Suppes was fired from the university in 2016, MU noted in its statement.
“Recently, following a unanimous recommendation by a 12-member faculty panel, Suppes was fired by MU over charges that included intimidating and harassing students, fellow faculty and department chairs; neglect of duties; and intentional violation of university rules,” the statement said.