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This article is written by Valli Gengadaran of Symbiosis Law School Pune, Maharashtra, an intern under Legal Vidhiya


An invitation to treat is a crucial tool in modern contract law as it facilitates the differentiation between an actual offer and a simple declaration of intent to negotiate. Finding out who is committing and who has the authority to accept or reject the offer depends on this distinction. An invitation to treat also gives the inviting party the freedom to select the best offer from a range of possible offerors, without being obligated by an unpleasant or unrealistic offer. This research paper focuses mainly on the research question or problem that the topic addresses, the main argument or thesis, the main methods, and sources, and finally the main findings or conclusions that the paper draws. The invitation to treat, a notion from contract law, is used in this study to try and explain what makes an experience unique. The paper makes the case that the central ideas of invitation and negotiation provide a clearer picture of the opportunities that a subject or idea might provide. The study offers a new framework for comprehending the idea from a far better angle by drawing [1]on the legal theory of contract creation as well as the educational literature on student participation and cooperation. According to the research, seeing higher education as an invitation to treat can promote a more dialogic, cooperative, and transformative learning environment in which learners actively engage in creating their comprehension.


Invitation to Treat, Offer, Contract law, Inviting an Offer,


The history of “Invitation to treat in Contract law can be traced back to its origin from the Roman law of the idea of “inviting an offer,” or “invitatio ad referendum”, is where the origins of invitation to treat in contract law can be found. The common law tradition, particularly in England and the United States, used this idea to distinguish between an actual offer and a simple declaration of intent to negotiate. Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v. Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd., a 1953 decision, was one of the first to establish this distinction. The court determined that goods displayed in a self-service store constituted an invitation to treat rather than an offer and that the contract was formed at the cash register rather than the shelf.

The court determined that an advertisement for a medicine that promised to pay £100 to anyone who contracted influenza after using it was an offer, not an invitation to treat, because it demonstrated a clear intention to be bound by the terms in Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co., another significant case from 1893. These judgments highlight the significance of invitations to treat in contract law to ascertain the formation, legality, and enforceability of contracts.

What is an “Invitation to Treat”?

A preliminary statement or action inviting someone to make an offer to purchase or sell products or services is known as an invitation to treat. It is crucial to remember that an invitation to treat is merely an offer to begin talks rather than a legally enforceable offer. Anything can be posted in front of a big crowd as an invitation to treat, as long as there’s no clear process for selecting who can accept. Tenders, product displays, and commercials are a few instances of invitations to treat.

However, according to UK legal jurisprudence, an offer is an indication of willingness to enter into a legally binding agreement on certain conditions, whereas an invitation to treat is an expression of willingness to negotiate the parameters of a contract. An invitation to treat does not have the necessary intention to establish legal relations, hence it cannot be accepted, unlike an offer, which can be accepted or rejected. It’s also important to remember that, although they require expressing a desire to enter into a contract of some kind, an invitation to treat and an offer may seem identical. The key distinction is that an offer is a firm and definitive declaration that can be accepted or refused, but an invitation to treat is merely an initial declaration or action that invites discussion.


  1. To examine the theoretical underpinnings of the idea of an invitation to offer, as well as how it varies from an offer.
  2. To examine the many invitation kinds that can be extended as well as the standards used to distinguish them in various legal settings.
  3. To consider the benefits and drawbacks of utilizing an invitation to offer as a formal tool for negotiating and forming contracts.
  4. To consider how an invitation to offer may affect the parties’ rights and responsibilities under the contract as well as the court’s role.
  5. To propose suggestions for potential changes or replacements to the current invitation-to-offer doctrine so that it more accurately reflects the requirements and reality of contemporary contractual practice.


To prevent misunderstandings or legal issues, it is crucial to understand the difference between an invitation to treat and an offer. An offer must contain all material conditions of the contract and be made in plain language for the offeree to be accepted. An invitation to treat, on the other hand, need not have any conditions and can take many different forms, including tenders, product displays, and marketing.

Illustration- A product with a price tag displayed in a store is regarded as an invitation to treat rather than an offer to sell. The buyer is then allowed to make an offer to purchase the item at the listed price. A legally enforceable agreement is only created when the store accepts the customer’s offer.

It is important to distinguish between an offer and an invitation to make an offer. An invitation to treat is an invitation to propose, whereas an offer is a proposal. A party’s intention to enter into a contract is expressed in an offer, which makes it definite. An invitation to offer, on the other hand, is an action that precedes an offer and is made to influence or negotiate the conditions. An offer is a firm proposal to enter into a contract that may be accepted or rejected by the other party. In contrast, an invitation to treat is a tentative phase in the contract formation process, wherein one party invites another to make an offer. An offer is enforceable by law, but an invitation to treat is not. An offer is made to generate a contract upon acceptance, whereas an invitation to treat is typically made to solicit offers or to negotiate terms.

Definition of Offer-

An offer is a way for someone to indicate to someone else their desire to do or not do something in exchange for their assent. If such a person accepts the offer, there can be a legitimate contract. An offer ought to be precise, assured, and comprehensive in every way. It needs to be informed by the person to whom it is addressed. The parties to the offer are bound by it legally.

Types of Offers-

  1. General Offer: This type of offer is offered to the public at large and not to a specified audience. It can be accepted by anyone who fulfills the terms of the offer.
  2. Specific Offer: This type of offer is to be offered to a specific person.
  3. Cross Offer: The term “cross offer” refers to an offer that is accepted by contract parties without their knowledge of one another’s initial offer.
  4. Counter Offer: The offeree accepts the offer after changing the terms and circumstances but does not accept the initial offer.
  5. Standing Offer: A standing offer is given to the entire public and is available for acceptance for a predetermined amount of time.

There are numerous forms of invitations to treat that can be given in different legal contexts, including:

  1. Advertisements: Since they don’t have the crucial details that would turn them into an offer, advertisements usually function as an invitation to treat. As soon as a customer approaches a seller with a purchase offer, an offer is made. By classifying advertisements as invitations, vendors might also decline to sell goods at incorrectly listed pricing.
  2. Auctions: An auction is typically an invitation to treat, in which the bidders are prompted to submit bids to the auctioneer. The auctioneer has the option to accept or reject an offer made by a bidder. On the other hand, reserve prices are sometimes included at auctions, indicating that the auctioneer is offering to sell to the highest bidder who exceeds the reserve price.
  3. Goods displays: Invitations to treat are frequently found in catalogs, ads, and things in store windows, among other displays. Items that are on display in a store are invitations to treat, not offers, as the store owner is asking the customer to make an offer. The store either accepts or rejects the offer made by the consumer for the products.
  4. Tenders: Requests for bids or proposals for a project or contract are known as tenders. An invitation to treat is typically included in a call for tenders, and the submitted tender is the offer. In certain instances, the request for proposals can genuinely be considered an offer. An agreement will be made with the top tenderer if the investor declares they will take the best offer.

The purpose of the parties, the clarity of the terms, and the communication method serve as the criteria for separating invitations to treat from offers. The objective evidence of the parties’ words and deeds, as well as how a reasonable person would understand those actions, will be considered by the courts. The absence of crucial terms like cost, quantity, or quality; the use of imprecise or confusing wording like “may,” “subject to,” or “negotiable”; and the requirement for additional discussions or approvals before the formation of a contract. The broad pool of possible recipients, the communication’s public character, or the industry’s or trade’s standard operating procedure.

How Does the Creation of a Contract Follow an “Invitation to Treat”?

Usually, a party makes an offer in response to an invitation to treat. If the person who is invited to treat accepts this offer, a legally enforceable agreement is created. For example, merchandise that is on display in a store encourages customers to make offers. Customers make an offer to purchase an item when they bring it to the counter. The buyer and the seller enter into a contract if the cashier approves and completes the transaction.

Customers essentially make an offer to buy when they present an item for sale. The shopkeeper then has the option to accept or reject this offer, even if the refusal is caused by a pricing inaccuracy that was revealed. Due to this legal distinction, store owners are protected against unanticipated events and honest mistakes while still having flexibility and choice in their sales.

Important distinctions between an invitation to offer and an offer (Treat):

The ultimate desire of the parties to establish legal relations is expressed in the offer. An invitation to offer indicates the party’s interest in inviting the public to make a final offer, not their willingness to do so. The Indian Contract Act, of 1872 defines an offer in section 2(a). On the other hand, the Indian Contract Act of 1872 does not define an invitation to offer.


It’s critical to realize that an invitation to treat does not imply a binding contract. An invitation to treat, in contrast to an offer, is only an invitation to engage in negotiations or submit an offer. It is up to the other party to determine whether or not to accept an invitation to treat. The parties are not required to enter into a legally binding agreement as a result of an invitation to treat. An offer establishes an obligation, whereas an invitation to treat does not. This is the main distinction between an offer and an invitation to treat. Following acceptance of the offer, a legally enforceable contract is created, and both parties are required to carry out their end of the bargain. However, accepting an invitation to treat does not mean that a legally binding agreement will be formed. To prevent misunderstandings, the person inviting them to treat them must be very explicit about their intentions. Determining whether an invitation to treat was a legally binding offer or not might be difficult if there is any doubt as to what the other party’s intentions were.

 In conclusion, it is critical to comprehend the legal ramifications of an invitation to treat under contract law. It is imperative for both parties to acknowledge that an invitation to treat does not constitute a legally binding contract and to make sure that invitations are sent with clear intentions. A legally binding agreement may only be formed by an offer and an acceptance.

  • Fisher v Bell

A well-known case in contract law, Fisher v. Bell, established that placing an item in a store window constitutes an invitation to treat rather than an offer. The retailer in question had put a flick knife in his window, which was prohibited from being sold by the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act of 1959. Although he was accused of selling the knife, the court ruled that he was not guilty since he had just solicited people to make offers rather than making one. Rather than following the plain wording or the legislative intent, the court used the legal definition of offer and invitation to treat as well as the fundamental rules of contract law.

  • Partridge v Crittenden

In contract law, the case of Partridge v. Crittenden established that advertising is typically an invitation to treat rather than an offer. The defendant broke the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 by selling some birds in a magazine. He was accused of selling the birds, but the court ruled that he was innocent since he had just allowed people to submit offers rather than making one. Rather than following the plain wording or the legislative intent, the court used the legal definition of offer and invitation to treat as well as the fundamental rules of contract law.

  • Harvey v Facey

In a contract law case known as Harvey v. Facey, it was decided that giving information or mentioning a price does not constitute an offer but rather an invitation to treat. In this case, there was a disagreement over the sale of a piece of real estate in Jamaica. The seller stated the asking price in response to a telegram from the buyer, but they had no intention of selling. Because the seller only offered information rather than making an offer, the court determined that there was no contract between the parties. Rather than considering the parties’ subjective intentions, the court used the objective criteria of offer and acceptance.[2]

What are the benefits and drawbacks of utilizing an invitation to offer as a formal tool for negotiating and forming contracts?


It gives the inviter the freedom to evaluate and select from a variety of offers without having to accept any of them. Because they can accept, reject, or counteroffer any offer they receive, it allows the inviter greater freedom and control over the terms and circumstances of the contract. Because the inviter can expressly state that they are not making a binding offer, there is less chance of accidental or early contract formation. Due to the increased exposure their products or services received, the inviter may be able to draw in more prospective customers or vendors.


The parties may not be aware of the terms or the date on which a contract is established, which can lead to uncertainty and confusion. The inviter may receive numerous offers that are inappropriate or unacceptable for them, which could result in time and money being squandered. If the inviter behaves dishonestly or deceptively, or if they withdraw their invitation after receiving an offer, they may be held legally liable. It may lead to missed opportunities since the inviter can pass up a good offer if they think about accepting it for too long.


An understanding of the ramifications of an invitation to treat is crucial for anyone engaging in negotiations or formalizing a legally enforceable agreement. Parties need to be aware of the distinctions between an invitation to treat and a legally enforceable offer. A request to negotiate or make an offer is known as an invitation to treat, and it is not enforceable unless it is accepted. A few instances of requests to treat are auctions, bids, and product displays in storefront windows. When responding to invitations to treat, it is essential to communicate clearly and have the purpose of establishing legal connections. It is crucial to comprehend how an invitation to treat functions in the creation of a contract.

Invites to treat allow parties to discuss or make an offer, and when that offer is accepted, a formal legal agreement is created. Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co Ltd. and Fisher v. Bell are two significant cases that have influenced how invitations to treat are understood and applied in contract law. To prevent misunderstandings during the contract formation process, it is imperative to distinguish between invitations to treat and offers. Parties negotiating contracts and formalities involving invitations to treat will find these important lessons to be helpful. To prevent any possible legal conflicts, it is crucial to address invitations to treat with intention, clarity, and understanding.

During the contract formation process, an invitation to treat may have an impact on the parties’ expectations, discussions, and actions. An invitation to treat, for instance, could: Affect how the parties perceive the worth, caliber, and accessibility of the products or services being provided. Invite offers, counteroffers, and requests for further details or explanations from both parties. Impose on the parties an obligation of good faith, integrity, and fair dealing, particularly if the invitation to treat is extended in a business or professional setting. Put the parties at risk of liability for fraud, misrepresentation, or breach of contract if they behave inconsistently, misleadingly, or deceptively.

The objective intention of the parties, the context and circumstances of the communication, and the reasonable expectations of a prudent person are the factors that the court considers when determining whether an invitation to treat or an offer has been made, and whether a contract has been created. The pertinent contract law guidelines and precepts, such as offer and acceptance, consideration, certainty, and capacity, will also be applied by the court. The words, deeds, and conduct of the parties, the written or oral contents of the communication, and any pertinent papers or records are just a few of the forms of evidence that the court will consider. Any precedents or authorities that have addressed comparable circumstances or issues will likewise be considered by the court.

The suggestions for potential changes or replacements to the current invitation-to-offer doctrine so that it more accurately reflects the requirements and reality of contemporary contractual practice can include- Rather than depending on strict classifications or assumptions, deciding whether a message is an offer or an invitation to treat should be done contextually and functionally. This would enable the courts to consider each case’s unique facts and circumstances as well as the parties’ goals, intentions, and expectations. This method might be more adaptable and sensitive to the variety and intricacy of contemporary contract law or by creating a unified and consistent set of guidelines and standards for online contracts, particularly for digital platforms and e-commerce where the lines separating an invitation to treat from an offer may not always be clear or significant. This will improve the effectiveness and security of online transactions and lessen the ambiguity and confusion brought about by the application of many national laws and jurisdictions. And, by establishing a pre-contractual responsibility regime in place of the invitation-to-offer theory, under which the parties are obligated to fulfill specific tasks and obligations even if a contract is not created. This would offer remedies for any losses or damage sustained as a result of unfair or abusive activity, such as fraud, bad faith, or breach of confidence, and protect the parties against it.


Offers and invitations to treat are not the same thing, and invitations to treat have important differences. Parties to a contract can make sure they are conveying their intentions clearly and prevent misunderstandings by recognizing the difference between an offer and an invitation to treat. It is also critical to understand that the creation of a legally enforceable contract depends heavily on invitations to treat. Furthermore, knowing the subtleties of invitations to treat can have a big impact on how legal issues turn out, as shown by well-known case laws. Therefore, if there is any doubt as to the status of a certain communication, legal counsel must be sought. Hence, this article can be concluded on the basis mentioned above after summarizing extensive research, and a conceptual understanding.


  1. Difference Between Offer and Invitation to Offer (with Examples and Comparison Chart) – Key Differences
  2. https://carlilandcarbolic.com/contract-law/formation-of-a-contract/offers-invitations-to-treat/
  3. https://www.studocu.com/en-nz/document/university-of-canterbury/law-of-business-contracts/invitation-to-treat-doctrine-summary/19070187
  4. https://www.studysmarter.co.uk/explanations/law/contract-law/invitation-to-treat-vs-offer/
  5. https://lawpath.com/blog/what-is-an-invitation-to-treat-in-contract-law
  6. https://legalvision.co.uk/commercial-contracts/what-is-an-invitation-to-treat/
  7. Understanding What is an Invitation to Treat in Contract Law (gaffneyzoppi.com)

[1] Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern Ltd.), 1953 EWCA Civ 6, 1953 1 QB 401, 1953 1 All ER 482, 1953 2 WLR 427

Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co,  1893 1 QB 256, 1892 EWCA Civ 1

[2] Fisher v Bell 1961 1 QB 394, 1960 3 All ER 7311

Partridge v Crittenden 1968 1 WLR 1204, 1968 2 All ER 421, 1968 132 JP 367, 1968 112 SJ 582, 1968 CLY 1151

Harvey v Facey 1893 UKPC 1, 1893 AC 5521

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