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R&D Four-Part Test

Obama Proposes R&D Credit Permanent Extension

Sept. 7th, President Barack Obama urged Congress to permanently extend and expand the research and development (R+D) tax credit for businesses, to encourage job growth and spur the economy. The R&D Credit expired in December 2009. Read more regarding Obama’s Proposed Permanent Extension of R&D Tax Credit.

The R&D Credit has been part of the Internal Revenue Code since 1981; however, a large number of companies have not taken advantage of this provision. In the past, the rules were very confusing. It was hard to determine who qualified, let alone which products or processes might qualify. While the rules are still complex, a company may be able to claim the credit providing that they are conducting research in the US, and if they meet the four following criteria.

Four-Part Test

  1. Permitted Purpose
    The activity must result in a new or improved process, function, product, performance, reliability, quality, or significant reduction in cost. Probably the most common type of activity overlooked by companies regarding these specific criteria involves significant improvements made to production-line operations. A very common example of this sort of improvement would be the updating of production-line capabilities by a manufacturer that ultimately improved efficiency, increased production capacity, and eventually yielded an overall reduction in costs. An example of this type of activity would be a company that manufactures heavy equipment, and relied upon a labor-intensive approach to production. If that company were to implement improvements in its manufacturing process, by way of automation or some other means that required investment in new equipment for the plant floor, then it’s very possible that the costs associated with the implementation of the new production process could be eligible for the R&D tax credit.
  2. Elimination of Uncertainty
    Were the activities conducted and intended to eliminate uncertainty concerning the development or improvement of a product? This criterion specifically involves the identification of information that is uncertain at the onset of the project or activity. Such uncertainty can relate to the capability of the product, the method used to produce it, or the appropriate design of the product. The examples that we typically encounter when consulting with clients in this arena deal with issues such as: Will the new or improved manufacturing process integrate with our current system, on any level? Will our new product development meet the customer specifications? Will the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks? Or will the new or improved product or activity even work?
  3. Technical in Nature
    Does the research fundamentally rely on the principals of, engineering, physical or biological science, or computer science? This criterion is usually a fairly easy one to deal with. What it really does is eliminate the soft sciences from the formal definition of technology. In other words, products or activities that are predicated upon literary, historical or social sciences do not qualify for the R&D Tax Credit. In all of our experiences, this technology criterion has never been an issue when performing an R&D study for a manufacturing company.
  4. Process of Experimentation
    Does the activity involve developing one or more hypotheses for specific design decisions, testing and analyzing those hypotheses, and refining and discarding the hypotheses? A key factor regarding the Process of Experimentation hurdle was recently crystallized, when Treasury Regulations changed the wording to evaluation of one or more alternatives. Previous language defined the process as evaluation of more than one alternative.

CONTACT US to learn more about our Tax Services.

ABOUT US: Freed Maxick CPAs is Western and Upstate New York’s (NY) largest public accounting firm and a Top 100 firm in the U.S. Freed Maxick provides audit, tax and consulting services to closely-held businesses, public (SEC) companies, not-for-profits and governmental entities in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and NYC, New York.


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