A sole source purchase means that only one supplier (source), to the best of the requester's knowledge and belief, based upon thorough research, (i.e. conducting a market survey), is capable of delivering the required product or service. Similar types of goods and services may exist, but only one supplier, for reasons of expertise, and/or standardization, quality, compatibility with existing equipment, specifications, or availability, is the only source that is acceptable to meet a specific need.


  • A sole source purchase is a method of acquisition. It is not to be used to avoid competition.
  • A sole source justification is required for every purchase over the Direct Buy Limit ($10,000) unless the purchase is being made from an existing contract, the supplier is specifically named in the grant, or the purchase is being competitively solicited.
  • Sole source justifications must be approved by a Procurement Services Buyer prior to an order being placed.
  • Price cannot be used as a factor in determining if a sole source exists because it indicates the existence of a competitive marketplace.

Sole Source Justification Criteria

The following list of criteria may be used in determining if a single or sole source situation exists:

  1. Only one manufacturer makes the item meeting salient specifications; that manufacturer only sells direct/exclusively through one regional/national representative;
  2. Item required must be identical to equipment already in use by the end user, to insure compatibility of equipment, and that item is only available from one source;
  3. Collaborative project- Supplier is named by the funding source, inter-agency agreement or clinical trials where the identical equipment is required for compatibility.
  4. Maintenance or repair calls by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) are required for a piece of equipment, and the manufacturer does not have multiple agents to perform these services.
  5. Replacement or spare parts are required from the OEM, and the OEM. does not have distributors for those parts.
  6. Patented items or copyrighted materials, which are only available from the patent or copyright holder.
  7. A medical/surgical decision by a medical/dental professional, where a specific brand is required for patient care, and the manufacturer has no multiple distributors for the product.
  8. Unique expertise, background in recognized field of endeavor, the result of which may depend primarily on the individual's invention, imagination, or talent.  Consultant has advanced or specialized knowledge, or expertise gained over an extensive period of time in a specialized field of experience.
  9. A Market Survey has been conducted to determine whether other potential sources capable of satisfying the requirement exist.   A list of the suppliers contacted, along with the reason why each supplier could not meet the requirements may justify a sole source purchase. Market Survey Defined: A "market survey" refers to efforts to determine whether other qualified sources capable of satisfying the UW's requirement exist. Testing the marketplace may range from telephone to written contacts with suppliers' experts regarding similar or duplicate goods and services. The extent of the market survey depends on what constitutes a reasonable effort under the circumstances to ensure that competition is not feasible. If only one source is identified as a result of the market research, this fact may be used to help justify a noncompetitive acquisition.

Note: An item being a “sole brand” or a “sole manufacturer” does not automatically qualify to be a “sole source”. Many manufacturers sell their products through distributors. Therefore, even if a purchase is identified as a valid “sole brand” or “sole manufacturer”, the requester should verify whether the manufacturer has multiple distributors. If the manufacturer does have multiple distributors, competition should be sought among the distributors.

State-Funded Sole Source Purchases

Sole source purchases over $10,000 made with state-appropriated funds require advance approval by the State of Washington Department of Enterprise Services (DES). This approval process is in addition to the UW's approval process.

DES requires a mandatory minimum of 10 days to review and approve a sole source purchase. Procurement Services buying staff cannot expedite the DES review process. Be prepared to allow two additional weeks for the procurement process if state funds are used. State funded sole sources must also be publicly advertised on the UW website for 10 days, and on the State's WEBS website for five days, before the purchase may be made.

Campus customers can determine if a purchase is being made with state-appropriated funds by looking at the budget in MyFD (My Financial Desktop). If the budget field entitled “State Fund” says “No Value”, that means the budget is NOT state-appropriated funds.  If there is any value (such as 001) in that field, then the budget is state-appropriated funds. (There is also an identifier on the requisition that alerts the Buyer when a purchase requisition has state-appropriated funding.)

The following are examples of exemptions from the State's sole source rules. They are NOT exemptions from UW sole source rules:

  • OEM maintenance service contracts purchased from the OEM (original equipment manufacturer)
  • Professional development conferences, seminars, professional licenses
  • If more than 50% of the funding for a purchase is from non-state appropriated funds

Intent to Sole Source State-Funded Purchase: 

State funded sole sources must also be publicly advertised on the UW website for 10 days, and on the State's WEBS website for five days, before the purchase may be made.