Deborah A. Geier
Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University
Does the sale of a patent by its creator create capital or ordinary gain? Prior to the legislation commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enacted in late December, we had a clear answer: long-term capital gain (with some statutory limits). The TCJA has muddied the water significantly.
Prior to the TCJA, patents were not listed in § 1221(a)(3), which has long excepted self-created copyrights and self-created literary, musical, and artistic works from the definition of “capital asset” (with an elective “exception to the exception” for musical compositions in § 1221(b)(3), thanks to the Country Music Association). In addition, transferees of such assets also hold them as ordinary assets if their basis is determined by reference to the creator’s basis. The § 1221(a)(3) exception is premised on the analogy to labor income; although property is transferred, the property was created through the personal effort of the creator. While the same can be said of self-created patents, Congress provided them favorable treatment not only by failing to include them in the § 1221(a)(3) list but also by providing additional favorable rules in § 1235.
Section 1235 provides that the transfer of all substantial rights to a patent or an undivided interest in all substantial rights (other than by gift or bequest) to an unrelated party by certain “holders” generates long-term capital gain, even if the patent was held for less than one year and even if the consideration may look like (ordinary) royalty payments because contingent on (or measured by) use of the patent. The “holders” that can benefit from these favorable rules include patent creators (whether amateurs or professional inventors), as well as buyers of a patent from the inventor before the invention covered by the patent is reduced to practice, even if the buyer is in the business of buying and selling patents and even if he holds patents for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business, so long as the buyer is not the inventor’s employer. In Pickren v. U.S., 378 F.2d 595 (5th Cir. 1967), the Fifth Circuit extended application of § 1235 to unpatented secret formulas and trade names, though the taxpayers failed to transfer all substantial rights to the property and thus were denied capital gains treatment under § 1235.
Section 3311 of the House version of the TCJA would have repealed the § 1221(b)(3) election to treat self-created musical compositions as capital assets and—more important to the current discussion—would have added the words “a patent, invention, model or design (whether or not patented), a secret formula or process” before “a copyright” in the § 1221(a)(3) exception to the definition of a capital asset. Thus, a patent held by its creator or by a taxpayer whose basis is determined by reference to the creator’s basis would be an ordinary asset. Consistent with this change, § 3312 of the House bill would have repealed § 1235.
On Saturday, I made one of those goofy academic tweet threads summarizing the paper, and then it occurred to me that I really liked my goofy tweet thread! Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of posting the tweets here for the marginal reader who is just interested enough in the topic to read the tweets but possibly not interested enough to read the actual paper.
Diane and I look forward to continuing conversation on this.
The question that drove us was extent to which Sec. 199A incentivizes shifts to independent contractor classification. Some key points: (1) It’s not just about 199A itself. We think that once tax interacts with non-tax considerations, the picture becomes more complicated…2/?
(3) It’s unclear how much incremental advantage the Sec. 199A "carrot" gives firms in keeping workers quiet when they are have been classified as ICs. Firms already have non-tax ways to mute worker challenges and, moreover, have used them. 4/?
There has been a lot of interest lately in new IRC Section 199A, the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction that grants passthroughs, including qualifying workers who are independent contractors (and not employees), a deduction equal to 20% of a specially calculated base amount of income. One of the important themes that has arisen is its effect on work and labor markets, and the notion that the new deduction creates an incentive for businesses to shift to independent contractor classification. A question that has been percolating in the press, blogs, and on social media is whether new Section 199A is going to create a big shift in the workplace and cause many workers to be reclassified as independent contractors.
Is this really going to happen? How large an effect will tax have on labor markets and arrangements? We think that predicting and assessing the impact of this new provision is a rather nuanced and complicated question. There is an intersection of incentives, disincentives and risks in play among various actors and across different legal fields, not just tax. Here, we provide an initial roadmap for approaching this analysis. We do so drawing on academic work we have done over the past few years on worker classification in tax and other legal fields.
In the new tax act of 2017, Congress imposed an unrelated business income tax on transportation, parking, and athletic facility fringe benefits that a nonprofit provides to its employees. I write because I suspect there are universities or hospitals or other large nonprofits out there (pension funds maybe) that offer these types of fringe benefits that are unaware that they must pay UBIT on the total value of these benefits at the end of the year. The law went into effect for taxable years starting January 1, 2018.
In Section 13703 of the bill, Congress promulgated the following new rule: UBIT “shall be increased by any amount for which a deduction is not allowable under this chapter by reason of section 274 and which is paid or incurred by such organization for any qualified transportation fringe (as defined in section 132(f)), any parking facility used in connection with qualified parking (as defined in section 132(f)(5)(C)), or any on-premises
athletic facility (as defined in section 132(j)(4)(B)).” Continue reading “GOP 2017 Tax Act Forces Nonprofits to Pay UBIT on Some Fringe Benefits”→
Today is the first day of calendar/tax year 2018. Today is also the first day that taxpaying American families with children who do not have a Social Security number will no longer qualify for any amount ofChild Tax Credit (CTC). IRC Section 24(h)(7). Certain members of Congress have for years been trying to target these working families and increase their already high effective income tax rate. Many of these families already pay federal income taxes at a higher effective tax rate than their U.S. citizen counterparts. I have blogged about this issue here and published scholarly articles about the oppressive “Illegal Tax” here, here, and here. Moreover many of them pay into Social Security and Medicare although they cannot qualify for any otherwise earned benefits. Fortunately, frontline advocates who support families, immigrants, and children have been successful pushing back against this oppressive goal until TODAY.
This question gets more complex by the day. On Dec. 27, the IRS issued Announcement 2017-210, which can be found on their website. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-advisory-prepaid-real-property-taxes-may-be-deductible-in-2017-if-assessed-and-paid-in-2017 My first reaction to this was, good for the IRS for doing their job to provide guidance to taxpayers. But there is a caveat. The job of the IRS is not easy because it is subject to political constraints (the acting IRS Commissioner, David Kautter, also serves as Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy). It is unusual for the Assistant Secretary to also serve as acting IRS Commissioner – indeed this has never happened before, at least in recent memory – and it raises questions precisely about issues like the one about the state and local deduction – does the IRS announcement reflect a nonpolitical view or is it designed to serve the political purposes of the Trump administration?).
Those who are not aficionados of IRS documents may not focus on the fact that the IRS Announcement is not a Revenue Ruling, which would carry some legal status. An Announcement generally does not break new legal ground. The Accouncement states: “ A prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 are not deductible in 2017.” (this is also ungrammatical, by the way). One would expect an Announcement that states a legal conclusion to provide a citation with legal authority, but the Announcement does not do so.
Tax professors are of course among the many people affected by the recent, significant changes to federal tax law. I have heard from several people wondering how best to adapt their courses starting in January to these changes. I think that exchanging ideas and sharing syllabi, etc., may be very helpful.
Accordingly, several of us have each agreed to serve as the point person for a particular course. The point person can set up an email list for those who express interest by email, and then use that list to exchange questions, ideas, syllabi, URLs, handouts, etc. with others teaching the same course. Of course, casebook authors may also be working on updates, and other listservs may be helpful, but these distribution lists will allow those interested to participate in topic-focused groups to exchange materials and ideas in advance of and throughout the semester.
The point people thus far are the following Surly bloggers, for the following courses:
To get on an email list, please email the applicable point person. And folks interested in serving as a point person for another course (i.e., in setting up the email list and getting it started), please post in the comments below, with the course name and your email address.
Legislative drafting conventions are conservative, and it is traditional for a bill to have a long title which describes the purposes of the bill in technical detail, and then to include in the first section a short title which provides a more user friendly name. The short titles of Acts used to be fairly straightforward (e.g., the “Revenue Act of 1939”) but by the late 70s or early 80s, they tended to get cute and political, so now we have names like the “PATRIOT Act” and the “Affordable Care Act.”
The tax bill just passed by both houses of Congress introduces a new and somewhat unprecedented variation. There is no short title. There used to be: the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA). However, at the last minute, it was stripped out of the bill because the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that it was extraneous to the bill’s purpose of affecting revenues, which is what a reconciliation bill is limited to. Hard to argue with that – the name of the law does not have an effect on revenues.
As a result, it would not be accurate to refer to this piece of legislation as the TCJA. Opponents have been referring to it as the Trump Tax Scam, and likely will continue to do so. It is probably too much to ask the media and tax advisors to refer to it that way, since that does seem overtly political. The “2017 Budget Reconciliation Act” perhaps would work (BRA for short). Several pieces of legislation enacted through reconciliation procedure have been called “Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 19xx” so there is precedent. So calling it a Budget Reconciliation Act is a correct generic description in the absence of an official short title. I believe that calling it a tax reform act would also be political, since it falls far short of reform. Budget reconciliation is perhaps as neutral as one can get. An additional argument for this is that the bill contains not only tax provisions but also provisions on Alaska drilling, which are not tax related, but are related to budget reconciliation.
The Tax Cuts and Job Act’s conference bill includes section 13307, titled “DENIAL OF DEDUCTION FOR SETTLEMENTS SUBJECT TO NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS PAID IN CONNECTION WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT OR SEXUAL ABUSE.” Fellow Surly blogger Sam Brunson blogged about an earlier version of this provision, which obviously reflects the recent, widely publicized revelations of sexual harassment and sexual assault that began with the Jody Kantor & Megan Twohey exposé of Harvey Weinstein in early October and was followed by a floodgate of allegations spanning a wide range of industries. Unfortunately, this tax provision, as drafted, is less than clear and could potentially have perverse—perhaps unintended—effects.
The provision seems intended as a policy-based provision rather than much of a revenue-raiser; it was one of very few things in the conference bill scored as raising less than $50 million over the entire 2018-2027 budget window. And, in the press release accompanying the predecessor of this provision, the Settlement Tax Deductions are Over for Predators Act (the STOP Act), which was introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Rep. Buck stated, “‘When we allow companies to deduct sexual assault and sexual harassment related settlements, we’re asking the American taxpayer to subsidize hush money payments that cover-up sexual misconduct.’”
But what exactly does the provision disallow? The principal language in the conference bill (the material other than the effective date and relettering) is a new subsection added to Code section 162 that reads:
“PAYMENTS RELATED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEXUAL ABUSE.—No deduction shall be allowed under this chapter for—
“(1) any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or
The conference tax bill follows both the House and the Senate bills in drastically increasing the standard deduction (from current law’s $13,000 in 2018 to $24,000). At the same time, it gets rid of personal exemptions. As Stephanie Hoffer pointed out eight months ago, eliminating personal exemptions would essentially increase taxes on families of four or more people; the more children a family had, the bigger its tax increase.
To fix that problem, the bill doubles the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child. In addition, to get Marco Rubio’s vote, the bill provides that up to $1,400 of each child tax credit is refundable.