Under Article 9 of the OECD Model Tax Convention, where the conditions made or imposed in the use or transfer of intangibles between two associated enterprises differ from those that would be made between independent enterprises, then any profits that would, but for those conditions, have accrued to one of the enterprises, but, by reason of those conditions, have not so accrued, may be included in the profits of that enterprise and taxed accordingly.
The purpose of this Chapter VI is to provide guidance specially tailored to determining arm’s length conditions for transactions that involve the use or transfer of intangibles. Article 9 of the OECD Model Tax Convention is concerned with the conditions of transactions between associated enterprises, not with assigning particular labels to such transactions. Consequently, the key consideration is whether a transaction conveys economic value from one associated enterprise to another, whether that benefit derives from tangible property, intangibles, services or other items or activities. An item or activity can convey economic value notwithstanding the fact that it may not be specifically addressed in Chapter VI. To the extent that an item or activity conveys economic value, it should be taken into account in the determination of arm’s length prices whether or not it constitutes an intangible within the meaning of paragraph 6.6.
The principles of Chapters I – III of these Guidelines apply equally to transactions involving intangibles and those transactions which do not. Under those principles, as is the case with other transfer pricing matters, the analysis of cases involving the use or transfer of intangibles should begin with a thorough identification of the commercial or financial relations between the associated enterprises and the conditions and economically relevant circumstances attaching to those relations in order that the actual transaction involving the use or transfer of intangibles is accurately delineated. The functional analysis should identify the functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed1 by each relevant member of the MNE group. In cases involving the use or transfer of intangibles, it is especially important to ground the functional analysis on an understanding of the MNE’s global business and the manner in which intangibles are used by the MNE to add or create value across the entire supply chain. Where necessary, the analysis should consider, within the framework of Section D.2 of Chapter I, whether independent parties would have entered into the arrangement and if so, the conditions that would have been agreed.
In order to determine arm’s length conditions for the use or transfer of intangibles it is important to perform a functional and comparability analysis in accordance with Section D. 1 of Chapter I, based on identifying the intangibles and associated risks in contractual arrangements and then supplementing the analysis through examination of the actual conduct of the parties based on the functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed, including control of important functions and economically significant risks. Accordingly the next section, Section A, provides guidance on identifying intangibles. Section B examines legal ownership and other contractual terms, together with guidance on the evaluation of the conduct of the parties based on functions, assets and risks. Section C outlines some typical scenarios involving intangibles, and Section D provides guidance on determining arm’s length conditions including the application of pricing methods and valuation techniques, and provides an approach to determining arm’s length conditions for a specific category of hard-to-value intangibles. Examples illustrating the guidance are contained in the Annex to this chapter.
Difficulties can arise in a transfer pricing analysis as a result of definitions of the term intangible that are either too narrow or too broad. If an overly narrow definition of the term intangible is applied, either taxpayers or governments may argue that certain items fall outside the definition and may therefore be transferred or used without separate compensation, even though such use or transfer would give rise to compensation in transactions between independent enterprises. If too broad a definition is applied, either taxpayers or governments may argue that the use or transfer of an item in transactions between associated enterprises should require compensation in circumstances where no such compensation would be provided in transactions between independent enterprises.
In these Guidelines, therefore, the word “intangible” is intended to address something which is not a physical asset or a financial asset, which is capable of being owned or controlled for use in commercial activities, and whose use or transfer would be compensated had it occurred in a transaction between independent parties in comparable circumstances. Rather than focusing on accounting or legal definitions, the thrust of a transfer pricing analysis in a case involving intangibles should be the determination of the conditions that would be agreed upon between independent parties for a comparable transaction.
Intangibles that are important to consider for transfer pricing purposes are not always recognised as intangible assets for accounting purposes. For example, costs associated with developing intangibles internally through expenditures such as research and development and advertising are sometimes expensed rather than capitalised for accounting purposes and the intangibles resulting from such expenditures therefore are not always reflected on the balance sheet. Such intangibles may nevertheless be used to generate significant economic value and may need to be considered for transfer pricing purposes. Furthermore, the enhancement to value that may arise from the complementary nature of a collection of intangibles when exploited together is not always reflected on the balance sheet. Accordingly, whether an item should be considered to be an intangible for transfer pricing purposes under Article 9 of the OECD Model Tax Convention can be informed by its characterisation for accounting purposes, but will not be determined by such characterisation only. Furthermore, the determination that an item should be regarded as an intangible for transfer pricing purposes does not determine or follow from its characterisation for general tax purposes, as, for example, an expense or an amortisable asset.
The availability and extent of legal, contractual, or other forms of protection may affect the value of an item and the returns that should be attributed to it. The existence of such protection is not, however, a necessary condition for an item to be characterised as an intangible for transfer pricing purposes. Similarly, while some intangibles may be identified separately and transferred on a segregated basis, other intangibles may be transferred only in combination with other business assets. Therefore, separate transferability is not a necessary condition for an item to be characterised as an intangible for transfer pricing purposes.
It is important to distinguish intangibles from market conditions or local market circumstances. Features of a local market, such as the level of disposable income of households in that market or the size or relative competitiveness of the market are not capable of being owned or controlled. While in some circumstances they may affect the determination of an arm’s length price for a particular transaction and should be taken into account in a comparability analysis, they are not intangibles for the purposes of Chapter VI. See Section D.6 of Chapter I.
The identification of an item as an intangible is separate and distinct from the process for determining the price for the use or transfer of the item under the facts and circumstances of a given case. Depending on the industry sector and other facts specific to a particular case, exploitation of intangibles can account for either a large or small part of the MNE’s value creation. It should be emphasised that not all intangibles deserve compensation separate from the required payment for goods or services in all circumstances, and not all intangibles give rise to premium returns in all circumstances. For example, consider a situation in which an enterprise performs a service using non-unique know-how, where other comparable service providers have comparable know-how. In that case, even though know-how constitutes an intangible, it may be determined under the facts and circumstances that the know-how does not justify allocating a premium return to the enterprise, over and above normal returns earned by comparable independent providers of similar services that use comparable non-unique know-how. See Section D. 1.3 of Chapter I. See also paragraph 6.17 for a definition of “unique” intangibles.
Care should be taken in determining whether or when an intangible exists and whether an intangible has been used or transferred. For example, not all research and development expenditures produce or enhance an intangible, and not all marketing activities result in the creation or enhancement of an intangible.
In a transfer pricing analysis of a matter involving intangibles, it is important to identify the relevant intangibles with specificity. The functional analysis should identify the relevant intangibles at issue, the manner in which they contribute to the creation of value in the transactions under review, the important functions performed and specific risks assumed in connection with the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation of the intangibles and the manner in which they interact with other intangibles, with tangible assets and with business operations to create value. While it may be appropriate to aggregate intangibles for the purpose of determining arm’s length conditions for the use or transfer of the intangibles in certain cases, it is not sufficient to suggest that vaguely specified or undifferentiated intangibles have an effect on arm’s length prices or other conditions. A thorough functional analysis, including an analysis of the importance of identified relevant intangibles in the MNE’s global business, should support the determination of arm’s length conditions.
The guidance contained in this chapter is intended to address transfer pricing matters exclusively. It is not intended to have relevance for other tax purposes. For example, the Commentary on Article 12 of the OECD Model Tax Convention contains a detailed discussion of the definition of royalties under that Article (paragraphs 8 to 19). The Article 12 definition of “royalties” is not intended to provide any guidance on whether, and if so at what price, the use or transfer of intangibles would be remunerated between independent parties. It is therefore not relevant for transfer pricing purposes. Moreover, the manner in which a transaction is characterised for transfer pricing purposes has no relevance to the question of whether a particular payment constitutes a royalty or may be subjected to withholding tax under Article 12. The concept of intangibles for transfer pricing purposes and the definition of royalties for purposes of Article 12 of the OECD Model Tax Convention are two different notions that do not need to be aligned. It may occur that a payment made between associated enterprises may be regarded as not constituting a royalty for purposes of Article 12, and nevertheless be treated for transfer pricing purposes as a payment to which the principles of this chapter may apply. Examples could include certain payments related to goodwill or ongoing concern value. It may also occur that a payment properly treated as a royalty under Article 12 of a relevant Treaty may not be made in remuneration for intangibles for purposes of this chapter. Examples could include certain payments for technical services. Similarly, the guidance in this chapter is not intended to have relevance for customs purposes.
The guidance in this chapter is also not relevant to recognition of income, capitalisation of intangible development costs, amortisation, or similar matters. Thus, for example, a country may choose not to impose tax on the transfer of particular types of intangibles under specified circumstances. Similarly, a country may not permit amortisation of the cost of certain acquired items that would be considered intangibles under the definitions in this chapter and whose transfer may be subjected to tax at the time of the transfer in the transferor’s country. It is recognised that inconsistencies between individual country laws regarding such matters can sometimes give rise to either double taxation or double non-taxation.
In discussions of transfer pricing issues related to intangibles, it is sometimes the case that various categories of intangibles are described and labels applied. Distinctions are sometimes made between trade intangibles and marketing intangibles, between “soft” intangibles and “hard” intangibles, between routine and non-routine intangibles, and between other classes and categories of intangibles. The approach contained in this chapter for determining arm’s length prices in cases involving intangibles does not turn on these categorisations. Accordingly, no attempt is made in these Guidelines to delineate with precision various classes or categories of intangibles or to prescribe outcomes that turn on such categories
Certain categories of intangibles are, however, commonly referred to in discussions of transfer pricing matters. To facilitate discussions, definitions of two such commonly used terms, “marketing intangibles” and “trade intangibles” are contained in the Glossary and referred to from time to time in the discussion in these Guidelines. It should be emphasised that generic references to marketing or trade intangibles do not relieve taxpayers or tax administrations from their obligation in a transfer pricing analysis to identify relevant intangibles with specificity, nor does the use of those terms suggest that a different approach should be applied in determining arm’s length conditions for transactions that involve either marketing intangibles or trade intangibles.
In certain instances these Guidelines refer to “unique and valuable” intangibles. “Unique and valuable” intangibles are those intangibles (i) that are not comparable to intangibles used by or available to parties to potentially comparable transactions, and (ii) whose use in business operations (e.g. manufacturing, provision of services, marketing, sales or administration) is expected to yield greater future economic benefits than would be expected in the absence of the intangible.
This section provides illustrations of items often considered in transfer pricing analyses involving intangibles. The illustrations are intended to clarify the provisions of Section A. 1., but this listing should not be used as a substitute for a detailed analysis. The illustrations are not intended to be comprehensive or to provide a complete listing of items that may or may not constitute intangibles. Numerous items not included in this listing of illustrations may be intangibles for transfer pricing purposes. The illustrations in this section should be adapted to the specific legal and regulatory environment that prevails in each country. Furthermore, the illustrations in this section should be considered and evaluated in the context of the comparability analysis (including the functional analysis) of the controlled transaction with the objective of better understanding how specific intangibles and items not treated as intangibles contribute to the creation of value in the context of the MNE’s global business. It should be emphasised that a generic reference to an item included in the list of illustrations does not relieve taxpayers or tax administrations from their obligation in a transfer pricing analysis to identify relevant intangibles with specificity based on the guidance of Section A. 1.
A patent is a legal instrument that grants an exclusive right to its owner to use a given invention for a limited period of time within a specific geography. A patent may relate to a physical object or to a process. Patentable inventions are often developed through risky and costly research and development activities. In some circumstances, however, small research and development expenditures can lead to highly valuable patentable inventions. The developer of a patent may try to recover its development costs (and earn a return) through the sale of products covered by the patent, by licensing others to use the patented invention, or by an outright sale of the patent. The exclusivity granted by a patent may, under some circumstances, allow the patent owner to earn premium returns from the use of its invention. In other cases, a patented invention may provide cost advantages to the owner that are not available to competitors. In still other situations, patents may not provide a significant commercial advantage. Patents are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
Know-how and trade secrets are proprietary information or knowledge that assist or improve a commercial activity, but that are not registered for protection in the manner of a patent or trademark. Know-how and trade secrets generally consist of undisclosed information of an industrial, commercial or scientific nature arising from previous experience, which has practical application in the operation of an enterprise. Know-how and trade secrets may relate to manufacturing, marketing, research and development, or any other commercial activity. The value of know-how and trade secrets is often dependent on the ability of the enterprise to preserve the confidentiality of the know-how or trade secret. In certain industries the disclosure of information necessary to obtain patent protection could assist competitors in developing alternative solutions. Accordingly, an enterprise may, for sound business reasons, choose not to register patentable know-how, which may nonetheless contribute substantially to the success of the enterprise. The confidential nature of know-how and trade secrets may be protected to some degree by (i) unfair competition or similar laws, (ii) employment contracts, and (iii) economic and technological barriers to competition. Know-how and trade secrets are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
A trademark is a unique name, symbol, logo or picture that the owner may use to distinguish its products and services from those of other entities. Proprietary rights in trademarks are often confirmed through a registration system. The registered owner of a trademark may exclude others from using the trademark in a manner that would create confusion in the marketplace. A trademark registration may continue indefinitely if the trademark is continuously used and the registration appropriately renewed. Trademarks may be established for goods or services, and may apply to a single product or service, or to a line of products or services. Trademarks are perhaps most familiar at the consumer market level, but they are likely to be encountered at all market levels. Trademarks are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
A trade name (often but not always the name of an enterprise) may have the same force of market penetration as a trademark and may indeed be registered in some specific form as a trademark. The trade names of certain MNEs may be readily recognised, and may be used in marketing a variety of goods and services. Trade names are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
The term “brand” is sometimes used interchangeably with the terms “trademark” and “trade name.” In other contexts a brand is thought of as a trademark or trade name imbued with social and commercial significance. A brand may, in fact, represent a combination of intangibles and/or other items, including among others, trademarks, trade names, customer relationships, reputational characteristics, and goodwill. It may sometimes be difficult or impossible to segregate or separately transfer the various items contributing to brand value. A brand may consist of a single intangible, or a collection of intangibles, within the meaning of Section A. 1.
Government licences and concessions may be important to a particular business and can cover a wide range of business relationships. They may include, among others, a government grant of rights to exploit specific natural resources or public goods (e.g. a licence of bandwidth spectrum), or to carry on a specific business activity. Government licences and concessions are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1. However, government licences and concessions should be distinguished from company registration obligations that are preconditions for doing business in a particular jurisdiction. Such obligations are not intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
Rights under contracts may also be important to a particular business and can cover a wide range of business relationships. They may include, among others, contracts with suppliers and key customers, and agreements to make available the services of one or more employees. Rights under contracts are intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
Limited rights in intangibles are commonly transferred by means of a licence or other similar contractual arrangement, whether written, oral or implied. Such licensed rights may be limited as to field of use, term of use, geography or in other ways. Such limited rights in intangibles are themselves intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1.
Depending on the context, the term goodwill can be used to refer to a number of different concepts. In some accounting and business valuation contexts, goodwill reflects the difference between the aggregate value of an operating business and the sum of the values of all separately identifiable tangible and intangible assets. Alternatively, goodwill is sometimes described as a representation of the future economic benefits associated with business assets that are not individually identified and separately recognised. In still other contexts goodwill is referred to as the expectation of future trade from existing customers. The term ongoing concern value is sometimes referred to as the value of the assembled assets of an operating business over and above the sum of the separate values of the individual assets. It is generally recognised that goodwill and ongoing concern value cannot be segregated or transferred separately from other business assets. See paragraphs 9.68-9.70 for a discussion of the related notion of a transfer of all of the elements of an ongoing concern in connection with a business restructuring.
It is not necessary for purposes of this chapter to establish a precise definition of goodwill or ongoing concern value for transfer pricing purposes or to define when goodwill or ongoing concern value may or may not constitute an intangible. It is important to recognise, however, that an important and monetarily significant part of the compensation paid between independent enterprises when some or all of the assets of an operating business are transferred may represent compensation for something referred to in one or another of the alternative descriptions of goodwill or ongoing concern value. When similar transactions occur between associated enterprises, such value should be taken into account in determining an arm’s length price for the transaction. When the reputational value sometimes referred to by the term goodwill is transferred to or shared with an associated enterprise in connection with a transfer or licence of a trademark or other intangible that reputational value should be taken into account in determining appropriate compensation. If features of a business such as a reputation for producing high quality products or providing high quality service allow that business to charge higher prices for goods or services than an entity lacking such reputation, and such features might be characterised as goodwill or ongoing concern value under one or another definition of such terms, such features should be taken into account in establishing arm’s length prices for sales of goods or the provision of services between associated enterprises whether or not they are characterised as goodwill. In other words, labelling a contribution of value from one party to another as goodwill or ongoing concern value does not render such contribution non¬compensable. See paragraph 6.2.
The requirement that goodwill and ongoing concern value be taken into account in pricing transactions in no way implies that the residual measures of goodwill derived for some specific accounting or business valuation purposes are necessarily appropriate measures of the price that would be paid for the transferred business or licence rights, together with their associated goodwill and ongoing concern value, by independent parties. Accounting and business valuation measures of goodwill and ongoing concern value do not, as a general rule, correspond to the arm’s length price of transferred goodwill or ongoing concern value in a transfer pricing analysis. Depending on the facts and circumstances, however, accounting valuations and the information supporting such valuations can provide a useful starting point in conducting a transfer pricing analysis. The absence of a single precise definition of goodwill makes it essential for taxpayers and tax administrations to describe specifically relevant intangibles in connection with a transfer pricing analysis, and to consider whether independent enterprises would provide compensation for such intangibles in comparable circumstances.
In some circumstances group synergies contribute to the level of income earned by an MNE group. Such group synergies can take many different forms including streamlined management, elimination of costly duplication of effort, integrated systems, purchasing or borrowing power, etc. Such features may have an effect on the determination of arm’s length conditions for controlled transactions and should be addressed for transfer pricing purposes as comparability factors. As they are not owned or controlled by an enterprise, they are not intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1. See Section D.8 of Chapter I for a discussion of the transfer pricing treatment of group synergies.
Specific characteristics of a given market may affect the arm’s length conditions of transactions in that market. For example, the high purchasing power of households in a particular market may affect the prices paid for certain luxury consumer goods. Similarly, low prevailing labour costs, proximity to markets, favourable weather conditions and the like may affect the prices paid for specific goods and services in a particular market. Such market specific characteristics are not capable, however, of being owned or controlled, and are therefore not intangibles within the meaning of Section A. 1., and should be taken into account in a transfer pricing analysis through the required comparability analysis. See Section D.6 of Chapter I for guidance regarding the transfer pricing treatment of market specific characteristics.
In transfer pricing cases involving intangibles, the determination of the entity or entities within an MNE group which are ultimately entitled to share in the returns derived by the group from exploiting intangibles is crucial. A related issue is which entity or entities within the group should ultimately bear the costs, investments and other burdens associated with the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation of intangibles. Although the legal owner of an intangible may receive the proceeds from exploitation of the intangible, other members of the legal owner’s MNE group may have performed functions, used assets, or assumed risks that are expected to contribute to the value of the intangible. Members of the MNE group performing such functions, using such assets, and assuming such risks must be compensated for their contributions under the arm’s length principle. This Section B confirms that the ultimate allocation of the returns derived by the MNE group from the exploitation of intangibles, and the ultimate allocation of costs and other burdens related to intangibles among members of the MNE group, is accomplished by compensating members of the MNE group for functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed in the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation of intangibles according to the principles described in Chapters I – III.
Applying the provisions of Chapters I – III to address these questions can be highly challenging for a number of reasons. Depending on the facts of any given case involving intangibles the following factors, among others, can create challenges:
i) A lack of comparability between the intangible related transactions undertaken between associated enterprises and those transactions that can be identified between independent enterprises;
ii) A lack of comparability between the intangibles in question;
iii) The ownership and/or use of different intangibles by different associated enterprises within the MNE group;
iv) The difficulty of isolating the impact of any particular intangible on the MNE group’s income;
v) The fact that various members of an MNE group may perform activities relating to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation of an intangible, often in a way and with a level of integration that is not observed between independent enterprises;
vi) The fact that contributions of various members of the MNE group to intangible value may take place in years different than the years in which any associated returns are realised; and
vii) The fact that taxpayer structures may be based on contractual terms between associated enterprises that separate ownership, the assumption of risk, and/or funding of investments in intangibles from performance of important functions, control over risk, and decisions related to investment in ways that are not observed in transactions between independent enterprises and that may contribute to base erosion and profit shifting. Notwithstanding these potential challenges, applying the arm’s length principle and the provisions of Chapters I – III within an established framework can, in most cases, yield an appropriate allocation of the returns derived by the MNE group from the exploitation of intangibles.
The framework for analysing transactions involving intangibles between associated enterprises requires taking the following steps, consistent with the guidance for identifying the commercial or financial relations provided in Section D. 1 of Chapter I:
i) Identify the intangibles used or transferred in the transaction with specificity and the specific, economically significant risks associated with the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of the intangibles;
ii) Identify the full contractual arrangements, with special emphasis on determining legal ownership of intangibles based on the terms and conditions of legal arrangements, including relevant registrations, licence agreements, other relevant contracts, and other indicia of legal ownership, and the contractual rights and obligations, including contractual assumption of risks in the relations between the associated enterprises;
iii) Identify the parties performing functions (including specifically the important functions described in paragraph 6.56), using assets, and managing risks related to developing, enhancing, maintaining, protecting, and exploiting the intangibles by means of the functional analysis, and in particular which parties control any outsourced functions, and control specific, economically significant risks;
iv) Confirm the consistency between the terms of the relevant contractual arrangements and the conduct of the parties, and determine whether the party assuming economically significant risks under step 4 (i) of paragraph 1.60, controls the risks and has the financial capacity to assume the risks relating to the development,
enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of the intangibles;
v) Delineate the actual controlled transactions related to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of intangibles in light of the legal ownership of the intangibles, the other relevant contractual relations under relevant registrations and contracts, and the conduct of the parties, including their relevant contributions of functions, assets and risks, taking into account the framework for analysing and allocating risk under Section D.1.2.1 of Chapter I;
vi) Where possible, determine arm’s length prices for these transactions consistent with each party’s contributions of functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed, unless the guidance in Section D.2 of Chapter I applies.
Legal rights and contractual arrangements form the starting point for any transfer pricing analysis of transactions involving intangibles. The terms of a transaction may be found in written contracts, public records such as patent or trademark registrations, or in correspondence and/or other communications among the parties. Contracts may describe the roles, responsibilities and rights of associated enterprises with respect to intangibles. They may describe which entity or entities provide funding, undertake research and development, maintain and protect intangibles, and perform functions necessary to exploit the intangibles, such as manufacturing, marketing and distribution. They may describe how receipts and expenses of the MNE associated with intangibles are to be allocated and may specify the form and amount of payment to all members of the group for their contributions. The prices and other conditions contained in such contracts may or may not be consistent with the arm’s length principle.
Where no written terms exist, or where the facts of the case, including the conduct of the parties, differ from the written terms of any agreement between them or supplement these written terms, the actual transaction must be deduced from the facts as established, including the conduct of the parties (see Section D. 1.1 of Chapter I). It is, therefore, good practice for associated enterprises to document their decisions and intentions regarding the allocation of significant rights in intangibles. Documentation of such decisions and intentions, including written agreements, should generally be in place at or before the time that associated enterprises enter into transactions leading to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, or exploitation of intangibles.
The right to use some types of intangibles may be protected under specific intellectual property laws and registration systems. Patents, trademarks and copyrights are examples of such intangibles. Generally, the registered legal owner of such intangibles has the exclusive legal and commercial right to use the intangible, as well as the right to prevent others from using or otherwise infringing the intangible. These rights may be granted for a specific geographic area and/or for a specific period of time.
There are also intangibles that are not protectable under specific intellectual property registration systems, but that are protected against unauthorised appropriation or imitation under unfair competition legislation or other enforceable laws, or by contract. Trade dress, trade secrets, and know-how may fall under this category of intangibles.
The extent and nature of the available protection under applicable law may vary from country to country, as may the conditions on which such protection is provided. Such differences can arise either from differences in substantive intellectual property law between countries, or from practical differences in local enforcement of such laws. For example, the availability of legal protection for some intangibles may be subject to conditions such as continued commercial use of the intangible or timely renewal of registrations. This means that in some circumstances or jurisdictions, the degree of protection for an intangible may be extremely limited either legally or in practice.
The legal owner will be considered to be the owner of the intangible for transfer pricing purposes. If no legal owner of the intangible is identified under applicable law or governing contracts, then the member of the MNE group that, based on the facts and circumstances, controls decisions concerning the exploitation of the intangible and has the practical capacity to restrict others from using the intangible will be considered the legal owner of the intangible for transfer pricing purposes.
In identifying the legal owner of intangibles, an intangible and any licence relating to that intangible are considered to be different intangibles for transfer pricing purposes, each having a different owner. See paragraph 6.26. For example, Company A, the legal owner of a trademark, may provide an exclusive licence to Company B to manufacture, market, and sell goods using the trademark. One intangible, the trademark, is legally owned by Company A. Another intangible, the licence to use the trademark in connection with manufacturing, marketing and distribution of trademarked products, is legally owned by Company B. Depending on the facts and circumstances, marketing activities undertaken by Company B pursuant to its licence may potentially affect the value of the underlying intangible legally owned by Company A, the value of Company B’s licence, or both.
While determining legal ownership and contractual arrangements is an important first step in the analysis, these determinations are separate and distinct from the question of remuneration under the arm’s length principle. For transfer pricing purposes, legal ownership of intangibles, by itself, does not confer any right ultimately to retain returns derived by the MNE group from exploiting the intangible, even though such returns may initially accrue to the legal owner as a result of its legal or contractual right to exploit the intangible. The return ultimately retained by or attributed to the legal owner depends upon the functions it performs, the assets it uses, and the risks it assumes, and upon the contributions made by other MNE group members through their functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed. For example, in the case of an internally developed intangible, if the legal owner performs no relevant functions, uses no relevant assets, and assumes no relevant risks, but acts solely as a title holding entity, the legal owner will not ultimately be entitled to any portion of the return derived by the MNE group from the exploitation of the intangible other than arm’s length compensation, if any, for holding title.
Legal ownership and contractual relationships serve simply as reference points for identifying and analysing controlled transactions relating to the intangible and for determining the appropriate remuneration to members of a controlled group with respect to those transactions. Identification of legal ownership, combined with the identification and compensation of relevant functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed by all contributing members, provides the analytical framework for identifying arm’s length prices and other conditions for transactions involving intangibles. As with any other type of transaction, the analysis must take into account all of the relevant facts and circumstances present in a particular case and price determinations must reflect the realistic alternatives of the relevant group members. The principles of this paragraph are illustrated by Examples 1 to 6 in the Annex to Chapter VI.
Because the actual outcomes and manner in which risks associated with the development or acquisition of an intangible will play out over time are not known with certainty at the time members of the MNE group make decisions regarding intangibles, it is important to distinguish between (a) anticipated (or ex ante) remuneration, which refers to the future income expected to be derived by a member of the MNE group at the time of a transaction; and (b) actual (or ex post) remuneration, which refers to the income actually earned by a member of the group through the exploitation of the intangible.
The terms of the compensation that must be paid to members of the MNE group that contribute to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation of intangibles is generally determined on an ex ante basis. That is, it is determined at the time transactions are entered into and before risks associated with the intangible play out. The form of such compensation may be fixed or contingent. The actual (ex post) profit or loss of the business after compensating other members of the MNE group may differ from these anticipated profits depending on how the risks associated with the intangible or the other relevant risks related to the transaction or arrangement actually play out. The accurately delineated transaction, as determined under Section D. 1 of Chapter I, will determine which associated entity assumes such risks and accordingly will bear the consequences (costs or additional returns) when the risks materialise in a different manner to what was anticipated (see Section B.2.4).
An important question is how to determine the appropriate arm’s length remuneration to members of a group for their functions, assets, and risks within the framework established by the taxpayer’s contractual arrangements, the legal ownership of intangibles, and the conduct of the parties. Section B.2 discusses the application of the arm’s length principle to situations involving intangibles. It focuses on the functions, assets and risks related to the intangibles. Unless stated otherwise, references to arm’s length returns and arm’s length remuneration in Section B.2 refer to anticipated (ex ante) returns and remuneration.
As stated above, a determination that a particular group member is the legal owner of intangibles does not, in and of itself, necessarily imply that the legal owner is entitled to any income generated by the business after compensating other members of the MNE group for their contributions in the form of functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed.
In identifying arm’s length prices for transactions among associated enterprises, the contributions of members of the group related to the creation of intangible value should be considered and appropriately rewarded. The arm’s length principle and the principles of Chapters I – III require that all members of the group receive appropriate compensation for any functions they perform, assets they use, and risks they assume in connection with the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of intangibles. It is therefore necessary to determine, by means of a functional analysis, which member(s) perform and exercise control over development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation functions, which member(s) provide funding and other assets, and which member(s) assume the various risks associated with the intangible. Of course, in each of these areas, this may or may not be the legal owner of the intangible. As noted in paragraph 6.133, it is also important in determining arm’s length compensation for functions performed, assets used, and risks assumed to consider comparability factors that may contribute to the creation of value or the generation of returns derived by the MNE group from the exploitation of intangibles in determining prices for relevant transactions.
The relative importance of contributions to the creation of intangible value by members of the group in the form of functions performed, assets used and risks assumed will vary depending on the circumstances. For example, assume that a fully developed and currently exploitable intangible is purchased from a third party by a member of a group and exploited through manufacturing and distribution functions performed by other group members while being actively managed and controlled by the entity purchasing the intangible. It is assumed that this intangible would require no development, may require little or no maintenance or protection, and may have limited usefulness outside the area of exploitation intended at the time of the acquisition. There would be no development risk associated with the intangible, although there are risks associated with acquiring and exploiting the intangible. The key functions performed by the purchaser are those necessary to select the most appropriate intangible on the market, to analyse its potential benefits if used by the MNE group, and the decision to take on the risk-bearing opportunity through purchasing the intangible. The key asset used is the funding required to purchase the intangible. If the purchaser has the capacity and actually performs all the key functions described, including control of the risks associated with acquiring and exploiting the intangible, it may be reasonable to conclude that, after making arm’s length payment for the manufacturing and distribution functions of other associated enterprises, the owner would be entitled to retain or have attributed to it any income or loss derived from the post-acquisition exploitation of the intangible. While the application of Chapters I – III may be fairly straightforward in such a simple fact pattern, the analysis may be more difficult in situations in which:
i) Intangibles are self-developed by a multinational group, especially when such intangibles are transferred between associated enterprises while still under development;
ii) Acquired or self-developed intangibles serve as a platform for further development; or
iii) Other aspects, such as marketing or manufacturing are particularly important to value creation.
The generally applicable guidance below is particularly relevant for, and is primarily concerned with, these more difficult cases.
Under the principles of Chapters I – III, each member of the MNE group should receive arm’s length compensation for the functions it performs. In cases involving intangibles, this includes functions related to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of intangibles. The identity of the member or members of the group performing functions related to the development, enhancement, maintenance, protection, and exploitation of intangibles, therefore, is one of the key considerations in determining arm’s length conditions for controlled transactions.