This lawsuit is the culmination of years of controversy between Suppes and the Office of Intellectual Property Administration of the University of Missouri. In fact, it was Suppes who initiated formal review of these issues, beginning with an appeal to the University Patent Committee requesting that they make a ruling on four patent applications, asking that they "declare that the '971 patent, along with three other patent applications, were his and not the University's" because he conceived and reduced these inventions to practice prior to employment with and outside the scope of his duties at the University.
The Patent Committee rejected Suppes' request with respect to three of the inventions and referred the '971 patent to outside counsel for a determination. Leaving the other three patents aside, the question of the '971 patent is itself perplexing. This patent, applied for on September 5, 2001, was filed within a month of Suppes beginning his employment at Missouri. Moreover, it was not a new patent filing, but a conversion of a provisional patent application to a non-provisional that had been filed over a year prior in July 2000.
The '971 patent was granted in June 2003 and is titled "fatty-acid thermal storage devices, cycles and chemicals." This technology is a complex work of chemistry and was obviously invented prior to his employment at Missouri. So one has to wonder why the Patent Committee referred the matter to outside counsel instead of relinquishing any claims on the innovation which was so obviously not its to own or direct?
Who sits on the Patent Committee of the University of Missouri that rendered this biased ruling? The Patent Committee is made up primarily of administrators associated with various tech transfer offices and functions and has a minority of 20% faculty representation. After the Committee made its recommendations regarding Dr. Suppes' intellectual property, President Forsee affirmed their decision. This is the same committee that approved the new invention disclosure form sight unseen.
In contrast, most research universities have appeals systems that consist largely of faculty members, some even with seats for student representatives, and thus maintain the appearance (and hopefully the fact) of impartiality.
Suppes had offered, and included emails and letters in his court filings to support his claims, to submit to binding arbitration to settle the issue, but when the University was non-responsive, he sought another solution.
Still acting within the University of Missouri system, Suppes filed a formal grievance against several administrative personnel he felt were mishandling intellectual property in general, and his innovations specifically. However, on the day before the grievance panel was to convene, the University filed the lawsuit and terminated the grievance process.