India: GST Implication On Intellectual Property

Last Updated: 31 July 2017
Article by Pratik Das (Legal Intern)
  1. Once upon a time . . .

Before the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, the Union government exclusively used to levy tax on transactions relating to Intellectual Property (IP) rights if such were classified as services1 (under Service Tax, Chapter V, Finance Act, 1994), while the State governments used to levy tax on IP rights if the transaction involving such were classified as sale/deemed2 sale of goods3 (under State Sales Tax/State Value Added Tax or Central Sales Tax which was collected and retained by the originating State). The aforesaid indirect tax system required interpretation on the classification of the transaction. This often led to double taxation when the same transaction was subjected to both sales tax and service tax due to the industry being cautious so as to avoid penalties of avoiding tax.

  1. Growing Stronger Together

With the advent of GST, the need to classify transactions involving IP as either relating to rendering of service or sale/deemed sale of goods was absolved. This is due to GST being concurrent4 in nature with the Centre and the States simultaneously and separately levying it on a common base or transaction irrespective of its classification. It is pertinent to note that GST would be applicable on supply of goods or services5 as against the previous concept of tax on the manufacture of goods or on sale of goods or on provision of services.

The GST to be levied for intra-state supply of goods and services by the Centre would be called Central GST (CGST) and that to be levied by the States [including Union territories with legislature] would be called State GST (SGST). On inter-state supply of goods and services, Integrated GST (IGST) is to be collected by the Centre.6 IGST would also be applicable on imports.7 GST is a destination based consumption tax, that is, the tax is received by the state in which the goods or services are consumed and not by the state in which such goods are manufactured.

  1. Rates in relation to Intellectual Property

Section 9 of the CGST, 2017 [corresponding section 9 of SGST] states that the CGST (or SGST as the case may be) shall be levied on the transaction value8 or the price actually paid or payable for the said supply of goods and/or services and at such rate to be notified on the recommendations of the GST Council. Subsequently, the rates have been notified as follows9:

Under Sl. No. 17, Heading 9973-

  • Temporary or permanent transfer or permitting the use or enjoyment of Intellectual Property (IP) right in respect of goods other than Information Technology software at the rate of 12% (6% CGST and 6% SGST).
  • Temporary or permanent transfer or permitting the use or enjoyment of Intellectual Property (IP) right in respect of Information Technology software at the rate of 18% (9% CGST and 9% SGST).

"Information Technology software" means10 any representation of instructions, data, sound or image, including source code and object code, recorded in a machine readable form, and capable of being manipulated or providing interactivity to a user, by means of a computer or an automatic data processing machine or any other device or equipment.

  • Transfer of the right to use any goods for any purpose (whether or not for a specified period) for cash, deferred payment or other valuable consideration at the same rate of central tax as on supply of like goods involving transfer of title in goods.
  • Any transfer of right in goods or of undivided share in goods without the transfer of title thereof at the same rate of central tax as on supply of like goods involving transfer of title in goods.
  1. Brief Analysis

It is pertinent to note that under the GST regime, permanent transfer/sale of a particular intellectual property right would be considered as supply of service and a 12% tax (6% CGST and 6% SGST) would be levied on the transaction price provided such IPR is not in respect of software. Temporary transfer or permission to use or enjoy (license or assignment) any IPR would also be taxable at the same rate provided it is not relating to IT software.

Earlier, permanent transfer was not considered as declared service and hence not exigible under service tax. It is also to be noted that earlier the exclusivity test (whether transfer/assignment/license is exclusive to the transferee) as laid down in the BSNL judgment11 was the standard for determining whether the transfer would amount to sale (and hence, subject to sales tax) or license (and hence, subject to service tax). Under the GST it is immaterial for the purpose of taxation whether the said transfer is exclusive or for that matter temporary since it will be subjected to the same concurrent tax.

It is also pertinent to note that sale or licensing of intellectual property pertaining to software would be charged 18% tax (9% CGST and 9% SGST). Even though GST has done away with the need to classify transactions in respect of goods and services, the Centre has in a way reversed the TCS judgment12 which had held that transactions relating to shrink wrapped software (software bound with product) was to be considered as transfer of the right to use such software goods (and hence deemed sale of goods13) while the same is to be treated as service due to the notification.14

It may also be noted that the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016 [by which the GST was introduced in the constitutional framework] did not amend Article 366(29A)(d) which specifies that the transfer of the right to use any goods is to be deemed as a sale of those goods. However with the aforesaid notification15, the Centre while notifying the taxation rate, has in a way classified the transfer of the right to use any goods to be treated as service.

  1. Reverse Charge on Copyright

GST is to be levied on the person supplying the goods and/or services. However, Section 9(3) of the CGST Act, 2017 states that the Centre may specify certain categories of supply of goods and services on which the tax is to be paid on reverse charge basis by the recipient of the supply. Therefore, as per notification16, the tax on the supply of services by an author, music composer, photographer, artist, etc. by way of transfer or permitting the use or enjoyment of a copyright relating to original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works to a publisher, music company, producer etc., shall be borne by the said publisher, music company or producer.

  1. "Registered Brand Name" in the context of GST

It is to be noted that the supply of certain goods, such as chena or paneer, natural honey, wheat, rice and other cereals, pulses, flour of cereals and pulses, other than those packed in unit container and bearing a registered brand name, is exempted from CGST17. Supply of such goods, when put up in unit container and bearing a registered brand name attracts 2.5% CGST rate18.

Subsequently, doubts were being raised as to the meaning of "registered brand name". On July 5, 2017, the Finance Ministry issued a press release19 clarifying the same. The statement noted that "registered brand name" has been defined in the notifications20 and the same would mean brand name or trade name which is registered under the Trade Marks Act, 1999. In this regard, registered trade mark means a trade mark which is actually on the register and remaining in force21.

Thus, unless the brand name or trade name is actually on the Register of Trade Marks and is in force under the Trade Marks Act, 1999, GST rate of 5% (2.5% CGST and 2.5% SGST) will not be applicable on the supply of such goods.22 It is pertinent to note that this may lead up to a situation wherein a particular company selling, say, cereals in unit containers bearing a brand name but such brand name is not on the Trade Mark Register and hence not in force, would be exempted from GST. Such situation would also extend to new players in the cereals (or other exempted goods) industry who have applied for trademarks and whose marks have not been registered. The relevant question posited by this clarification is that whether smaller players would now be discouraged from filing for trademark registration due to availing tax exemption which in turn would reduce their costs? This might go against the objective of the National IPR Policy 2016, which encourages commercialization of IP at the grass-root level. Still considering the importance of Intellectual Property, such manufacturers need to understand the gravity of the matter that non registering of Trade Mark is not favourable to them considering the market for their products which is ultimately identified by their brand name and hence they cannot afford to not protect their brand name only to save some minor percent of GST. Thus, importance/benefits of Trade Mark Registration when compared to the applicable GST for products under Trade Mark which is not on register, it is indeed crystal clear that manufacturers should protect their IP which in all circumstances should be of paramount interest which help reap profits by leaps and bounds.

  1. Conclusion

With the introduction of GST at nascent stage, it is still to be seen as to how the implementation is carried forward. At the very least, the GST has brought about a positive change by doing away with the need to classify transactions as either relating to goods or services since all transactions would now be concurrently levied tax by both the Centre and the States (provided transaction is intra-state supply; inter-state to be levied exclusively by Centre). The GST has also subsumed numerous central, state and municipal taxes and by doing so, will ensure that indirect tax rates and structures are common across the country thereby increasing certainty and ease of doing business.

Footnotes

[1] Intellectual Property Service meant the temporary transfer or permission to use or enjoy any intellectual property right.

[2] Article 366 (29A) (d) of the Constitution specifies that the transfer of the right to use any goods to be deemed as a sale of those goods.

[3] Supreme Court in Tata Consultancy Services v. State of Andhra Pradesh,  (2005) 1 SCC 308 held that the term "goods" under Article 366 (12) of the Constitution includes intangible/incorporeal property which is capable of abstraction, consumption and use, and which can be transmitted, transferred, delivered, stored, possessed, etc.

[4]Article 246A, Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016.

[5]Articles 366(12A), 286(1A), 286(1B), 286(2), Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016.

[6]Article 269A, Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Section 15, CGST, 2017.

[9] Notification No. 11/2017-Central Tax (Rate), dated 28th June, 2017 [which notify the rates for supply of services under CGST Act].

[10]Ibid at Explanation (v).

[11]Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. v. Union of India, (2006) 3 SCC 1.

[12]Supra at 3.

[13]Supra at 2.

[14]Supra at 9.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Notification No. 13/2017-Central Tax (Rate), dated 28th June, 2017 [which notify the categories of services on which tax will be payable under reverse charge mechanism under CGST Act].

[17] Notification No. 2/2017-Central Tax (Rate), dated 28th June, 2017 [which exempts intra-state supply of the specified goods from CGST].

[18] Notification No. 1/2017-Central Tax (Rate), dated 28th June, 2017 [which notifies the CGST rates of intra-state supply of goods].

[19]Available at http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=167146.

[20]Supra at 17, 18.

[21]Section 2(w), Trademarks Act, 1999.

[22]Supra at 19.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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