Multiple Purchasing Options Overpower Use of “Quotation” in Finding Offer for Sale
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment of no invalidity under the on-sale bar, finding that the completeness of relevant commercial sale terms, including multiple purchase options, was not an invitation to further negotiate but rather was multiple offers for sale. Junker v. Medical Components, Inc., Case No. 21-1649 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 10, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Stoll, JJ.)
Larry Junker designed a sheath that makes it easier for doctors to grasp the sheath during catheter insertion. After designing the sheath, Junker inquired about manufacturing and eventually began a business relationship with James Eddings and his company, Galt Medical, to manufacture the product. Eddings also started a new company, Xentek Medical, to help with the development, manufacture and sale of the product. In January 1999, Eddings, through Xentek, communicated with Boston Scientific Corporation about the sheath products and sent a letter detailing bulk pricing information for the products. The letter concluded by noting Eddings’ appreciation for “the opportunity to provide this quotation.” In February 2000, Junker filed a design patent directed to an “ornamental design for a handle for introducer sheath.”
Junker sued MedComp in 2013 for infringement of the claimed design. In response, MedComp asserted invalidity, unenforceability and noninfringement defenses, as well as counterclaims. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment for several issues, including invalidity under the on-sale bar. The primary dispute regarding the on-sale bar was whether the January 1999 letter to Boston Scientific was considered an offer for sale of a product embodying the claimed design. The district court found that it was not an offer for sale because it was a preliminary negotiation and not a definite offer. The district court reasoned that although the letter included many specific commercial terms, the repeated use of the word “quotation” and the invitation to discuss specifics rendered the letter a preliminary negotiation. The district court proceeded with a bench trial, ultimately finding in favor of Junker and awarding damages. MedComp appealed.
A patent claim is invalid under § 102(b) if the invention was on sale more than a year before the application date and the claimed invention was the subject of a commercial offer for sale and was ready for patenting. There was no dispute that the January 1999 letter was sent more than one year before the patent’s filing and that the claimed design was also ready for patenting. As a result, the only issue on appeal was whether the letter was a commercial offer for sale of the claimed design.
The Federal Circuit determined that the letter was a commercial offer for sale. The Court found that the statement that Xentek was responding to a “request for quotation” signaled that the letter was more than just an unsolicited price quote and was instead a specific offer to take further action. The Court found that the letter contained many necessary terms typical in a commercial contract, including prices for bulk shipments, specific delivery conditions and payment terms. The Court also found that the letter’s multiple different purchase options were an important feature in the determination that it was a commercial offer for sale.
The Federal Circuit rejected Junker’s argument that the letter did not include “essential” terms, such as the size and quantity of the products being purchased, because that standard would be too stringent. The question was simply whether there was an offer for sale. The Court reasoned that the completeness of the relevant sales terms in the letter signaled that the letter was more than an invitation to negotiate and that it was multiple offers for sale, any one of which Boston Scientific could have simply accepted and created a contract. Because the letter was an offer for sale that invited Boston Scientific to act rather than merely negotiate, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s determination of summary judgment of no invalidity.