Offering for sale could be a public disclosure of your invention: get patent pending before selling!

By: Dennis Haszko

Generating income is typically top of mind for any business. For technology companies, this often means that sales and marketing go hand-in-hand with product development. During product development, confidential clauses in agreements shield companies from public disclosure of the invention. However, the United States has an “on-sale” bar which prevents one from patenting an invention that has been offered for sale for more than one (1) year prior to the patent application filing date.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. (Helsinn) that a sale made under confidentiality obligations (a so-called “secret sale”) qualified as prior art under the “on-sale” bar in 35 U.S.C. 102(a)[1]. In that case, Helsinn Healthcare S.A. entered into a confidential agreement that granted a partner company the right to, inter alia, sell Helsinn’s chemotherapy product. Helsinn filed the first patent application on their product more than a year after executing the agreement. The U.S. Supreme Court held that even though the agreement between Helsinn and its partner company was confidential, the “secret sale” was a bar to patentability and thus Helsinn lost their patent rights. Accordingly, although confidentiality clauses may work in many circumstances, caution should be exercised when discussing new products with prospective customers prior to filing a patent application.

So how does a company prevent the self-inflicted wound of invalidating its patent before the application is even filed? Consider what actually makes the “secret sale” a problem in the first place.  The US Supreme Court cited Pfaff v. Wells Electronics, Inc., which provided the requirements for the conditions that create an on-sale bar:

  • the product must be the subject of a commercial offer for sale; and
  • the invention must be ready for patenting. [2]

A commercial offer for sale will typically require some manifestation of intent. However, determining when a product is ready for patenting can be confusing. The court held in Pfaff that drawings or other descriptions of the invention that enable a skilled artisan to practice the invention were sufficient to make a product “ready for patenting”. Notably, the Court in Pfaff held that even an offer for sale that did not disclose the details of the invention could cause an inventor to lose the right to patent.

Key Takeaway

Helsinn raises significant issues for early stage business activities.  During early product development, offering product solutions for sale can be easy and unintentional. For example, whiteboard presentations to prospective customers may in fact provide enough detail of the product to make the invention ready for patenting. Any suggestion of an offer for sale during such discussions could easily run afoul of the on-sale bar. An NDA is not enough, both parties should be clear as to whether or not there is an intention to sell the product.  The other option: file a patent application before your one-year grace period lapses.


[1] US Supreme Court, No. 17 – 1229, 2019.

[2] US Supreme Court, No. 97-1130, 1998.

Brion Raffoul Welcomes 3 New Law School Students for Summer 2020

Brion Raffoul is pleased to announce the addition of 3 new law school students to our team:

Tina Dekker (M.A.Sc. Electrical Engineering – Nanotechnology)

Joshua Proud (Biomedical Mechanical Engineering)

Alexandra Dingee (Biology)

Happy National STEM Day!

File:Educación STEM.jpg

Brion Raffoul wishes all the budding scientists, computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians a Happy National STEM Day. Without STEM careers, patent law would not have developed to what we know it as today. If any budding scientists or engineers need some motivation to continue on the STEM path, here are some historical Canadian patents for inspiration!

For example, one of the first electric light prototypes (before Edison’s) was patented in 1874 by Canadian inventors Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans. Unable to secure investors, Woodward sold the rights to the US Patent to Edison in 1879. Edison later bought a share in the Canadian rights.

By Stacey Dunn

Brion Raffoul Congratulates New Patent Agent Stacey Dunn

The firm would like to congratulate Stacey Dunn for passing the 2019 Canadian Patent Agent Qualification Examinations to become a Registered Canadian Patent Agent. Stacey has a background in molecular genetics and specializes in the life sciences. Stacey is also a lawyer in Ontario and actively supports our legal practice in the area of IP licensing and enforcement.

Brion Raffoul is a premier Canadian IP boutique providing clients with a full range of patent, design, and trademark procurement services, as well as legal advice in the field of IP.  We take time to know our clients and are committed to providing excellent quality service in a timely manner. If you have any questions about intellectual property, please feel free to reach out to any of our professionals.

Brion Raffoul Welcomes Leber IP Law to Ottawa

Brion Raffoul and Leber IP Law enjoyed a great evening at Captive Escape Rooms last night! Escape rooms are a great team building exercise that Brion Raffoul has used in the past. Everyone has to work together in a time crunch situation to escape!

Brion Raffoul was happy to welcome US Patent Attorneys Celia Leber and Dave Robertson to Ottawa and we wish them safe travels home.

2019 NBA Champions Toronto Raptors: Trademark Fight Ahead with Monster Energy

By: Edward Wu

Despite the Toronto Raptors’ historic win last night, they may have some trouble ahead with their, now iconic, logo. Monster Energy is suing the Toronto Raptors over the clawed basketball logo. Documents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) show that the two companies have been fighting over the “claw” style logos since 2015. Monster Energy claims that the Raptors’ logo of a clawed-up basketball is too similar to Monster Energy’s claw logo:

Monster Energy’s Logo

Monster’s “claw” logo is of three jagged vertical gashes. The company has used the three gashes since 2002. The Raptors’ old “claw and a basket ball” trademark was filed with the USPTO in 1994 and registered in 2003.

Raptors’ Old Logo

In 2014, the Raptors redesigned the team’s logos and filed US trademark applications for the following:

Raptors’ New Logos

In May 2015, Monster Energy opposed the Raptors’ new US trademark applications. Over the past 4 years, the two companies attempted to settle the case but failed to reach a settlement by 2018, when the case went into discovery.

A recent document shows that Monster Energy filed a motion for partial summary judgement stating that the equitable defense of prior registration that the Raptors asserted is only available when the marks and goods/services in the subject application are essentially the same as the mark and goods/services in a prior registration. Monster Energy argues that the Raptors’ Trademarks are not substantially identical to the prior registration. Namely, the Raptors’ design was changed from independent claws and a basketball to claws within a basketball. Furthermore, one of the new marks added the words “TORONTO RAPTORS”, which is not found in the old mark. Monster also states that the Raptors described the new marks in very different ways, and they intended to create new marks for evolving the aging Raptors brand. The TTAB has yet to decide the outcome of the motion.

The trademark fight extends to the Raptors’ home court, Canada. Monster Energy opposed the Raptors’ Canadian trademark application for the “TORONTO RAPTORS” logo in December 2016. Interestingly, the Raptors successfully registered their new logo without the “TORONTO RAPTORS” on March 10, 2017 with the Canadian Intellectual Property office (CIPO).

Monster Energy may try to bring down the Raptors’ trademarks, but nothing can take away from last night’s win!

#WeTheNorth!