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Policy Shaping in the Indian IT Industry: Comparative Analysis of Recommendations by NASSCOM and iSPIRT, 2013-2016

Posted by Pavishka Mittal at Jul 04, 2016 09:35 AM |
This is the second of a series of three blog posts, authored by Pavishka Mittal, tracking the engagements by NASSCOM and iSPIRT in suggesting and shaping the IT industry policies in India during 2006-2016. This post conducts a detailed comparative analysis of NASSCOM’s and iSPIRT’s specific policy recommendations from 2013-2016. To facilitate comparison, the blog post is written thematically on the lines of major issues highlighted by market players in the IT industry.

 

1. Introduction

2. Taxation Issues in the Software Industry

2.1. Issue of Double Taxation in the Software Industry

2.2. NASSCOM's Tax Concerns

2.3. iSPIRT's Tax Concerns

3. Concerns with Respect to the Regulatory Mechanism for E-Commerce (B2B Commerce)

4. Other Policy Recommendations

5. Endnotes

6. Author Profile


1. Introduction

Indian Software Product Industry Roundtable, or iSPIRT, is a think tank formed in early 2013 by about 30 product companies and individuals to protect the interests of the Indian software product industry. The organization believes that the market for software products is bound to grow in the future, both globally and locally, whose benefits should be derived of through cost efficiencies and resource optimization through the mechanism of free markets. This blog post, second in a series on ‘policy shaping in the Indian IT industry’, conducts a detailed comparative analysis of NASSCOM’s and iSPIRT’s specific policy recommendations from 2013-2016. The author has examined the more contentious issues due to difficulties in stating all the policy recommendations of these organizations over a period of four years in a single post. The law is explained, wherever necessary. Further, in the absence of reliable data on a particular policy position of either organization, no assumptions regarding the same have been made. To facilitate comparison, the blog post is written thematically on the lines of major issues highlighted by market players in the IT industry. Transfer pricing issues will be examined in the next blog post.

2. Taxation Issues in the Software Industry

2.1. Issue of Double Taxation in the Software Industry

There has been a general practice of the payment of both VAT and Service Tax on sale of software, which involve the provision of maintenance services etc along with the product. The applicable law on taxation has been explained below for a better understanding of the policy positions of the deemed organizations. Section 65B(44) of the Finance Act 2012, which defines ‘services’ includes ‘declared services’ under section 66E [1] and excludes ‘deemed sales’ under Article 366(29-A)(b) [2] of the Constitution involving a transfer of title in goods. A combined reading of all the provisions reveal that every transfer of goods on lease, license, hire under section 66E(f) does not result in the transfer of right to use goods under Article 366. It has been held that the transfer of right to use the goods under Article 366 involves a transfer of possession and effective control over the goods [3]. Thus, a license to use software which does not transfer ‘the right to use software’ would not qualify to be a sale/ deemed sale under law and would be governed by section 66E(f). Thus, from a general reading of the law, it can be concluded that the terms of the agreement involving transfer of pre-packaged or canned software under a license to use the software would have to be examined to decide the applicability of article 366 of the Constitution, that is, to decide whether the license to use packaged software involves the ‘transfer of right to use’ the deemed software.

The Madras HC in Infotech Software Dealer Association v. Union of India [4] held that licensing agreements involving the transfer of rights to use software to a licensee who is not permitted to sell, license or distribute the software by the licensor who retains copyright and hence ownership rights in the goods will not be sale or ‘deemed sale’ transactions as per article 366(29A)(d) of the Constitution as no transfer of software is made out from the transaction. The test of effective control as to the transfer of right to use the goods has been followed by the Madras HC. In the present case, it was held that software owner while retaining copyright protection entered into master end use licensing agreements which enabled the petitioner association to market the software to individual end users, thus, Article 366(29A)(d) was not attracted in the absence of transfer of software. Restraints/ conditions on the free enjoyment of the software in the licensing agreement indicate service tax liability. Any imposition of service tax on ‘goods’ would not be deemed to be unconstitutional without examination of the transaction. The source of confusion remains in the fact that notwithstanding software are goods, the transaction involving its transfer would have to be examined for taxation purposes. Manner of delivery is also of consonance in the determination of character of the transaction. It has been held that delivery of online content would only be a service in contrast to transfer of software through media, or embodied in the computer itself.

To summarise, jurisprudence and legislations have recognized packaged or canned software as tradable goods for the purposes of VAT/Sales Tax. “IT Software’ has also been recognized as goods under the Indian Central Excise Tariff Act. Further, Packaged or canned software is recognized as a ‘packaged commodity’ for the purposes of the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 on the basis of which the manufacture of such is generally subject to Central Excise valuation on an MRP/Retail Sales Price basis in accordance with s 4A of the Central Excise Act, 1944. This is in contradiction to the premise that software supplied digitally is a service. The argument remains that basic operational character, marketability and commercial value of software remains unchanged, whether it is supplied over the counter in a shop or supplied digitally.

2.2. NASSCOM's Tax Concerns

NASSCOM in its pre budget recommendations for the year 2013-2014 suggested that deviations from the existing provisions should be allowed for matters that warrant the adoption of an alternative approach for tax reform. Consultative groups such as the Tax Administration Reform Commission (TARC) should continue to operate. The IT Industry possesses certain specific tax concerns due to its unique business models which aim to overcome geographical distances. Software product companies are practically SME’s which struggle to maintain cash flow due to imposition of additional tax. All firms, including SMEs are forced to hire a specific employee for tax compliance alone. Further, they prefer to pay the deemed penalty rather than opt for litigation due to added costs, which is not sustainable in the long run.

The CBEC’s Guidance Notes dated 20th June, 2012 clarified many issues arising out of the new provisions in the Service Tax law introduced on 1st July 2012. As laid down by the SC in TCS v. State of AP [5], ‘sale’ of prepackaged/ canned/shrink wrapped software would not be a provision of service. NASSCOM’s earlier request for a clarification as to the taxation of onsite services was fulfilled with the guidance notes treating development of onsite software under the category of development of Information Technology Software as a declared service under section 66(e)(d) of the Finance Act.

NASSCOM suggested clarity in the deemed provisions which allow for dual taxation and ambiguity in the characterization of the transaction. VAT should be levied on the product alone and the service tax should only be payable on the additional services rendered, if any. New business models involve the provision of services along with the product which further increase the possibility of dual taxation. Provision of standard software, including license to use such software, whether electronically or on a media, should not be subject to dual levies, and in case VAT is applied, it would not be liable to Service tax. For software transactions which involve both a product and associated services, the services component should be subject to service tax alone, and the product value should be subject to VAT only. Given the stand taken by the Central Government on the treatment of software supplied electronically, it may be clarified that service tax is applicable on sale of software which is downloaded electronically and Central Sales Tax is not applicable on the same if the transaction is interstate transaction. Other recommendations included:

  1. The Finance Act 2012 introduced certain retrospective amendments which are unfair to the industry involving TDS and associated penalties arising out of royalty implications. The introduction of payment of royalty on Internet downloads of software, services of maintenance, upgrade and telephone services has to be aligned with International standards.
  2. The 10% TDS payable by SMEs and startups in the IT Industry is high due to the low profitability of such ventures and the cash flow crunch faced subsequent to such payment due to the need for investment prior to the start of operations in the product development industry. Often, the actual tax liability is lower than the TDS liability, which results in income tax refunds later while reducing liquidity in operations before. NASSCOM suggested reduction of TDS liability and adjusting pending refunds to future TDS liability. Further, banks should offer loans to software companies by treating the pending TDS refunds as book debts taken by the state. The ideal approach would be the complete exemption of the software industry from TDS u/s s 194J of the Income Tax Act.
  3. Section 194J of the Income Tax Act prescribes that TDS @10% has to be deposited on payment made for the acquisition of software for amount greater than Rs 30,000 in a financial year. NASSCOM recommended that the prescribed limit for the computation of the TDS liability is not indicative of the pricing trends in the current business environment and thus the minimum threshold limits be increased to 3 lakh in a financial year. Further, the relevant criteria of setting these limits should be released in the public domain which would enable the industry to share data for the timely updation of the prescribed limits.
  4. Clause 4 of the second explanation to Sec 9(1)(vi) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 states that Royalty would include consideration for the rendering of services which include the imparting of any information concerning technical, industrial, commercial or scientific knowledge, experience or skill. Royalty indicates consideration for ‘user rights’ rather than ownership rights. NASSCOM in 2014 stated that Software Ancillary Services such as AMC’s, Upgrade Fees, Subscriptions, etc. which do not involve transfer of rights, or grant of license but involve only payments of consideration for services is deemed to be “Royalty” for the purposes of the Income Tax Act and demanded that a clarification be issued under this regard.
  5. Abatement of 15% is allowed from Retail Sale Price (RSP) to arrive at the value of Packaged Software or Canned Software, for payment of excise duty [6]. This notified abatement of 15% does not take into account the incidence of taxes on the product [7]. The taxes on the product amount to ~22% of the RSP and the notified abatement of 15% is not adequate. NASSCOM recommended that the abatement of 15% allowed under the said notification be increased to 30%. High Packaged/Canned software products are sold through a multilayer dealer/distribution chain through which they are delivered to the ultimate consumer. High trade discounts are incurred due to the presence of multiple intermediaries in the supply chain.
  6. The IT Act in recognition of the compulsions and limitations of the SME and start-ups have notified several thresholds below which provisions are not applicable. Unfortunately, these are not revised and lose their relevance in the evolving business environment. NASSCOM requested for the institutionalization of a periodic review mechanism, which would ensure that the thresholds are revisited at predefined frequencies and altered accordingly.
  7. Review of the foreign tax credit provisions are necessary in light of emerging Indian MNCs. The existing tax treaties need to be reevaluated to delete differential tax treatment discouraging domestic investment and contributing to the increased round tripping in the economy.
  8. A separate regulatory approach with respect to Angel Investments needs to be formulated as they serve as the key source of funding for IT firms in the absence of access to public financial institutions.
  9. NASSCOM has also highlighted multiple procedural issues in its prebudget recommendations for the year 2015-16 [8].
  10. NASSCOM expressed its disappointment over the manner of implementation of the Fringe Benefit Tax bringing a lot of legitimate business expenditure on employee welfare in the tax net, resulting in non-investment in the long term benefit of workers by businesses [9].

2.3. iSPIRT's Tax Concerns

iSPIRT stated that the Indian government by adopting a piecemeal approach to the taxation system in the country has contributed to its increased fragmentation. The present tax structure cannot deal with the evolution of the digital economy in India which is increasingly using innovation in its business models.

All prepackaged software are considered to be goods due to an associated tariff code (ITS/HS Code). All other categories of software, are to be treated as services by default through a logic of exclusion, (other than customized software) by virtue of not being included in the tariff code list. There is no recognition of other models of SaaS, PaaS etc. The central government has not given adequate remedies to the issue of the charging of VAT by the State governments. Even when software is defined as a service, its transfer is often held to be deemed sale as per Article 366(29A) of the constitution. ‘SaaS’ software is taxed only under the service tax component when procured through a service partner, as against service tax plus VAT when procured directly. Differential taxation treatment of the same product/service creates immense frictions for ease of doing business for digital goods and services.

iSPIRT identifies the root cause for such confusion to be the non-recognition of intangibles to be at par with tangibles. Technically, by treating them to be ‘goods’ and subjecting them to the Sale of Goods Act, they cannot be treated as services by definition. However, the result of the piecemeal approach is the non recognition of software products as products (effectively), due to their intangible nature. This can be seen by the imposition of royalty from income derived from the sale of software under the Finance Act 2012, which indicates that the transaction of sale of software is considered to be one of transfer of copyright rather than a sale of product.

iSPIRT gave arguments as to the inefficiency of the proposed GST bill to deal with the taxation issues in the software industry, the bill not taking cognizance of the root cause of absent definition of a digital good which treats intangibles at par with tangibles. Practical challenges will arise due to differences in the value chain of use and consumption of ‘goods’ and ‘services’. The tax structuring is not done exclusively for the either software or the digital business. The tax authorities are prone to provide for differential rates under pressure of lobbying in the presence of new sectors in the industry which leads to amendments of rules and increased confusion. With the non-deletion of Clause (29A) of Article 366 in the proposed constitutional amendment, the concept of sales and deemed sales may be misused or may not give way to the concept of supply as envisaged in the GST Bill. Further, the CBEC is expected to use the existing frameworks even if the GST bill is proposed to be passed to the detriment of the software industry.

iSPIRT’s solution involved the transfer of focus to ‘digital’ products and services. It formulated the COG-TRIP test which can be used to define software products as distinct from software services [10]. Software products would be pervasive in the future and would be an essential component of the ‘digital economy’. Software is not necessarily a standalone computer program and may work with either data, audio or video products. Hence software products, sounds, images, data, documents or combinations of them may exist as a ‘digital product/goods’. This ‘digital economy’, would be overwhelmed with trade of not only ‘digital goods’ and ‘digital services’, but also the trade of ‘right to use’ or ‘transfer of right to use’ just as there is ‘deemed sales’ or ‘transfer of right to use’ of tangible goods. Due to inevitable inseparability of software and digital products, the taxation issues of Software product industry should be dealt in a unified ‘digital economy’ domain to prevent the formulation of a temporary, patchwork solution. Focusing on ‘digital’ will provide strategic solution to the problem at policy formulation level.

iSPIRT thus proposed a ‘digital goods’ and ‘digital services’ definition in the tax system [11]. These “digital goods,” or intangible goods have to be awarded the status of “goods” as defined in Article 366(12) of the Constitution. The digital goods, though intangible in nature, exhibit all properties of tangible goods generally acceptable in legal parlance viz. durability (perpetual or time bound), countability (number of pieces, licenses or users etc.), identifiability (standardised), movability and storage, ownership (IP or right to use), reproducibility, and marketability/tradability using an MRP as per the proposed COG TRIP test formulated by ISPIRT. This would be further related to the Sale of Goods Act 1930 and related article 366(29A) aspects. This would also be beneficial for the SaaS Industry which can now be defined under the product (digital goods) category as an industry. Once SaaS is recognized as Product (intangible goods) the next issue to be solved is asking for one single clear tax on a transaction be it “goods” or “services” based on the transaction. Other recommendations included the inapplicability of ‘royalty income’ under the garb of attached ‘copyrights’ in the Income Tax act to digital goods. This binding of ‘royalty income’ on software and ‘intangible/digital’ goods is a bottleneck to trade in a digital economy. Also, the tax system has to be digital in all aspects, i.e., ability to track transactions, levy of a clear single tax and digital collection—including taxes on international online transactions. it also recommended the commencement of taxation of online B2C sales by foreign companies.

iSPIRT expressed its disappointment in its post budget response over no attention being given to easing taxation norms of software companies where there is significant friction, the confusion on “goods” verses “service” tax on online downloads, TDS on sale of Software products and competition from foreign selling B2C products without any tax in India. Tax relaxation should be provided to startups on the basis of profitability rather than exemption in the initial 3 years of operations, when startups may not possess tax liability anyway. Loss making startups should not have to part with liquidity in the form of TDS payments which get refunded later. Relaxation in capital gains tax should not be just confined to investment in government schemes.

iSPIRT in its article dated November 24, 2014 [12] briefly explained the problem of duality of taxes on services. The constitutional framework regarding Indirect Taxes specifies that the manufacturing and services should be taxed by the centre and anything that is traded should be taxed by the states. Services are not tradable in nature in contrast to ‘rights to services’ which are tradable commodities. An example would be a vendor selling a recharge coupon. The actual service would be provided by the Telco, he is just selling the right to service. This would be tradable until the service is consumed. This transaction qualifies for both Service tax, imposed by the centre and the tax on tradable commodities imposed by states. ISPIRT had not yet proposed the digital goods and services definition to resolve these issues and its budget recommendations were similar to those of NASSCOM. It proposed that clarity is needed on the issue of tradability of service as “goods” and “service delivery” as “service”. Only after such clarity is achieved, the GST would be able to resolve the issues of duality of taxes.

Its article classified the taxation issues into direct and indirect.

Direct Tax Issues:

  1. According to the Finance Act 2012, any income arising out of the sale of software amounts to royalty, irrespective of the medium of sale making the said transaction liable for TDS deduction under s 194J. All software sold carries a license for end use without transfer of copyright in the software. The software product and the associated license is sold as a tradable commodity and not as a copyright. International practice treats the sale of software depending on how the rights/copyrights are transferred. This rights based approach shall distinguish between the nature of rights transferred in exchange for consideration.
  2. A transfer of “copyright” would indicate that the payer is permitted to commercially exploit the copyright that would otherwise be the sole privilege of the copyright holder and would constitute infringement of copyright without such transfer. The payer, now the copyright holder, is permitted to reproduce, copy, modify, adapt or prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted software for sale or profit. This transaction is subject to payment of royalty in contrast to a transaction which only involves the transfer of a “copyrighted article”. The payer in this case is only permitted to operate the software product for personal consumption or for use within his business operations. Such payment should be treated as business income and not as royalty.
  3. iSPIRT proposed the repeal of the said amendment and introduction of provisions which differentiate between ‘copyright’ and ‘copyrighted articles’ for the purposes of determination of royalty impositions. Further, it proposed specific exclusion through the addition of an explanation to the deemed provision for income arising from the sale of ‘copyrighted articles’ including shrink wrap software, software licenses, downloadable software, software bundled with hardware. It also recommended that the term copyright be defined in the IT Act for royalty purposes to remove dependency on sections 14 and 52 of the Indian Copyright Act, with the exception of the applicability of the Indian Copyright Act in case of copyright infringement. If software product companies are being subject to a TDS there should be Tax credits available on service tax. It also stressed on the need for a mechanism to speed up the process of TDS refunds.

Indirect Tax Issues:

  1. iSPIRT demanded the amendment of the Mega Notification No. 25/2012 dated June 6, 2012 to provide that electronic delivery of packaged software through telecommunication networks are excluded from the ambit of service tax. Alternatively, an explanation could be attached to s 66E of the Finance Act to provide that the development of software under subclause (d) is “only in relation to customized software and any packaged software delivered online or downloaded on the Internet is specifically excluded from the provisions of section 66E and should not be chargeable to service tax.” Additionally, the “Taxation of Services: an Educational Guide” dated June 20, 2012 issued by the Central Board of Excise and Customs needs to be amended along with the addition of an explanation to chapter 85 of schedule I of the Central Excise Tariff Act stating that packaged software delivered online or downloaded from the internet is also included in the meaning of ‘IT Software’ for the purposes of heading 8523.
  2. iSPIRT made the same recommendation as NASSCOM as to the inadequate rate of abatement from RSP to arrive at the value of packaged/canned software, falling under the Central Excise Tariff Heading, 85239020 of the Central Excise Tariff Act, 1985, for payment of excise duty under s 4A of the Central Excise Act, 1944. It recommended that serial No. 93A in Notification No. 49/2008 dated December 24, 2008 be amended to increase the abatement from the existing 15% to 35%.

3. Concerns with Respect to the Regulatory Mechanism for E-Commerce (B2B Commerce)

The existing FDI norms in India do not permit FDI in multi-brand retail companies. The new rules indicate that 100% FDI is permitted in online retail of goods and services under the ‘market place model’ through the automatic route, rendering legality to the many present e-commerce businesses in India. Since the business entity in focus is only an intermediary which provides the sellers of the goods with a platform for the sale of their products, online retail in the form of the inventory model remains illegal, excepting single brand retail [13]. The present FDI policy aims to convenience sellers who can take advantage of the services of e-commerce giants including, but not confined to, warehousing, logistics, order fulfillment, call centre and payment collection [14].

NASSCOM has suggested keeping the FDI norms for B2C Commerce at par with B2B Commerce. Further, the stipulations in the circular issued in 2015 by the DIPP which provided for the same conditions on SBRT applicable to brick and mortar stores be applicable to online stores which provided for 30% sourcing from local sources for retailers which had more than 51% FDI was opposed by NASSCOM, which reiterated that unviable regulations only restrict trade and development. It stated that e-commerce can be aligned to the objectives of national development by providing impetus to manufacturing sector, order consolidation and distribution, facilitating and supporting SMEs, improving outreach and access to buyers/sellers, bringing traceability and transparency in transactions, empowering consumers with information and data and finally creating new job opportunities. E-commerce has only enabled the creation of unique businesses which has created demand resulting in greater private consumption and market demand in inaccessible areas in consonance with the ruling governments ‘Make in India’ scheme. Further, a transparent audit trail and the resulting efficient tax collection can be better ensured through the medium of online banking and credit cards.

As companies have no control on consumer buying behaviour and will have no say in the choices made by them, there should be no mandate to conclude sale of products sourced from India. Instead, companies will continue to offer local products on their website, but linking it to buying behaviour would be unfair and difficult to comply with. Hence, the policy should stipulate that companies should offer 30% locally sourced products, without any criteria related to sourcing from SMEs.

The government should recognize and support the growth of e-commerce companies who are dedicated to Indian ethnic products, helping MSMEs and artisans to expand their outreach. Presently, the FDI in retail policy gives power to the states to decide. In the context of e-commerce, any geographical limitations will go against the basic tenet of outreach and market access that e-commerce promises. Further any restrictions imposed by states will serve to deprive it from the inherently efficient processes and infrastructure development opportunities, contributing to employment and revenue generation opportunities. Market development is an important priority for the Internet economy and is akin to infrastructure development in the physical world. NASSCOM has been actively engaging with the government to evolve a policy concerning Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in e-Commerce that encourages smaller technology players to foray into the market.

It recommended:

  1. Allowing 100 per cent FDI in B2C e-Commerce, as in the case of B2B e-Commerce.
  2. Removing the ‘minimum investment threshold’ and conditions of investment in the back-end since e-Commerce requires investment in technology and supply chain for promised efficiencies. Since there is no investment required in creating physical store fronts, there is no need for such a stipulation.
  3. Allowing existing e-Commerce firms to raise capital, in addition to permitting investment in greenfield projects.
  4. Removing geographical limitations that go against the basic tenet of outreach and market access that e-Commerce promises.

NASSCOM also suggested the following restrictions to exclude organisations that are:

  1. Receiving orders on the telephone, facsimile or conventional email.
  2. Are not complying with the rules on FDI in retail in toto.
  3. Pure play e-Commerce ventures that are foraying into physical retail, but not complying by the rules on FDI in retail.

4. Other Policy Recommendations

  1. iSPIRT stated that the complex procedures for share allotment etc should be revised to enable the software companies to concentrate on core business functions.
  2. In May 2016, ISPIRT cautioned the use of patents in India, citing the overuse of patents in USA with corporations whose sole purpose of existence is to register patents and demand royalty payments from unsuspecting users. If India allows software patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, it would have to give priority to the existing patents filed in other countries and would enable MNCs to exclude Indian companies from using their ‘inventions’. To enable the Indian software industry to innovate without worrying about patent lawsuits, software patents should not be permitted. iSPIRT lauded the revised guidelines issued by the Indian Patents Office in 2016 which prevent the digital colonization of India by MNCs. order issued by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks dated February 19, 2016 finalising the guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions lays down clear tests for recognizing patents.
  3. India has to build a favourable business environment to retain the software products business and its intellectual property, which is highly mobile, within its domestic territory. Among the solutions are liberalized ownership rules with exemptions from regulatory filings and specific regimes (FDI/VCI/FII, etc.), specific exemptions from capital gains and dividend taxes for investors and tax exemption on foreign income of Indian software product companies. The idea of a fully liberalized virtual special economic zone for ownership and operation of software product companies, with India signing an iron-clad double-taxation avoidance agreement should not be rejected.
  4. As was the case with Flipkart, larger buyers and clients withhold payment intentionally until suppliers are forced to grant unreasonable discounts. Large buyers are aware that suppliers would not act upon their rights to preserve business relationships and to avoid unnecessary time consuming and expensive litigation. According to iSPIRT, 98% of Indian SMBs extended goods and services on credit to their clients in 2015 leading to a situation wherein the most exclusive businesses can demand payments upfront. Giving the example of IMAI, which has proposed the establishment of a payment recovery mechanism for the digital communication service industry which would enforce meaningful out of court payment protections, iSPIRT has asked for solutions to the problem at hand in its article dated May 18 2016.
  5. iSPIRT formulated a Stay-in-India checklist as a part of its Startups Bridge India campaign which identifies 34 key issues to be resolved to prevent startups from relocating abroad [15]. The Checklist includes requests for favourable IP tax regime, harmony in taxation of listed and unlisted securities, relaxed external commercial borrowing norms, faster incorporation and liquidation processes, and permitting convertible notes, indemnity escrows, and deferred consideration in foreign investment transactions.
  6. NASSCOM applauded the National Intellectual Property Rights policy, approved by the cabinet on 13 May 2016 [16]for comprehensively covering all aspects of the domain including IPR awareness, generation, legislative framework, administration, commercialization, enforcement and adjudication, human capital and incorporating the suggestions of the associations on IPR policy made last year. According to the policy, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) would become the nodal point department for all IPR related developments in India, while respective ministries or departments will be responsible for actual implementation. NASSCOM commented that this single umbrella approach will help leverage linkages between various IP offices. The proposal for a simple loan guarantee scheme to encourage start-ups based on IPRs as mortgage-able assets; financial support and securitization of IP rights for commercialization by enabling valuation of IP rights as intangible assets, the promotion of free and open source software and the support for IPR generation for information and communications technology , including those relating to cyber security for India are welcome. NASSCOM stated that it would partner with DIPP in the modernization efforts support an innovation led Industry in India.
  7. NASSCOM in 2016 urged the SC to reconsider the ban on diesel taxis in the capital highlighting unresolved issues of the safety of the women workforce working in the IT industry and the lack of an adequate CNG infrastructure. Stating that the ban may cost the industry $1 billion, it suggested a deferred timeline for shifting diesel cabs to CNG or a phased implementation.

5. Endnotes

[1] The following activities are ‘declared services’ under section 66E of the Finance Act:

  • Section 66E (c) of the Finance Act, 1994 - Temporary transfer or permitting the use or enjoyment of an intellectual property right.
  • Section 66E(d) - Development, design, programming, customization, adaption, upgradation, enhancement, implementation of information technology software. (IT software has been defined in section 65B of the Act as “any representation of instructions, data, sound or image, including source code and object code, recorded in 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.)
  • Section 66E(f)- Transfer of goods by way of hiring, leasing, licensing or in any such manner without transfer of right to use such goods.

[2] Article 366(29-A) (b) of the Constitution states that a tax on the sale or purchase of goods includes a) a tax on the transfer of property in goods, b) a tax on the delivery of goods on hire purchase or any system of payment by installments, c) a tax on the transfer of the right to use any goods for any purpose, and d) a tax on the supply of goods. Such transfer, delivery or supply of any goods shall be deemed to be a sale of those goods by the person making the transfer, delivery or supply and a purchase of those goods by the person to whom such transfer, delivery or supply is made.

[3] State of A.P. v. Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. MANU/SC/0163/2002, BSNL v. UOI, MANU/SC/1091/2006: 2006 2 STR 161 S.C.

[4] The petitioner in the above case relied on TCS v State of Andhra Pradesh, (2005) 1 SCC 308 which held that software are goods, whether customized or non-customized, to argue that the Finance Act 2012 was unconstitutional to the extent that it imposed service tax on software. Since the states were imposing VAT on such transactions, the consequent levy of service tax by the Central government was unconstitutional. The dominant intention of the parties, as laid down in the BSNL case, would not have to be examined in such a situation. The Madras HC agreed with the contention that software is a ‘good’, as it is an article of value having regard to its utility and is capable of transmission, delivery, storage, possession and of being brought and sold and did not deviate from the position of law as laid down in the TCS case, its own earlier decision in the case of Infosys Technologies Vs. CTO (2008) TIOL 509 as well as the decision of the Karnataka High Court in Antrix Corporation Ltd. Vs. Assistant Commissioner of Commercial Taxes (2010) TIOL 515.

[5] On making and marketing copies of software, the transaction would be subject to sales tax despite the retention of the copyright with the originator of the programme. The sale is not just of the media, but of the Intellectual Property stored on the media. As it is impossible to separate the transaction, the sale of software would be governed by the Sale of Goods Act 1930, being a ‘good’ under law. Goods sold can be both tangible, intangible/incorporeal. The test is whether they are capable of abstraction, consumption, use, transfer, transmission, delivery, storage, possession etc, fulfilled in the case of software.

[6] This was notified in 2008, Serial No 93A of Notification No 49/2008-CE (NT) dated 24.12.2008, for valuation under Section 4A of the CEA, 1944.

[7] VAT/CST rates ranging from 5.5% to 6.6%; Octroi/Entry Tax of 5.5% in State of Maharashtra; excise duty from 10% ad valorem and Education Cess.

[8] See: http://www.nasscom.in/sites/default/files/policy_update/NASSCOM%20pre-budget%20recommendations%20-%20Procedural%20issues.pdf.

[9] See: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2005-09-05/news/27476122_1_fbt-nasscom-kiran-karnik.

[10] Given below is the framework of COG-TRIP:

  • 1. Countability - Number of licenses/users/subscribers
  • 2. Ownership and intellectual property rights
  • 3. Qualification as an intangible good
  • 4. Tradability: The software products (goods) can be sold through different delivery modes
  • 5. Right of service / Right of Use
  • 6. Identifiability
  • 7. Production/development cost: All software production costs are capitalized and subsequently reported at the lower of unamortized cost or net realizable value

[11] DIGITAL GOOD: The term 'digital good' means any software or other good that is delivered or transferred electronically, including sounds, images, data, facts, or combinations thereof, stored and maintained in digital format, where such good is the true object of the transaction, rather than the activity or service performed to create such good.

DIGITAL SERVICE: The term 'digital service' means any service that is provided electronically, including the provision of remote access to or use of a digital good.

For purpose of above definitions, the term:

  • 'Digital Goods' means 'Goods' as defined in 366(12) of the Constitution,
  • 'Digital service' means a 'service' and that which is not a 'Digital Good,'
  • 'Delivered or transferred electronically' means the delivery or transfer by means other than tangible storage media,
  • 'Provided electronically' means the provision remotely via electronic means,
  • 'Software' is a 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, and
  • 'Software Product” is a standardised set of such software bundled together as a single program or a Module that directs computer's processor to perform specific operations, exhibiting the properties of an intangible good that can be traded.

EXPLANATORY NOTE: In legal parlance, the 'goods' exhibit the following properties as established under the COG TRIP test: 1) Durability - perpetual or time bound, 2) Countability – traded commodity can be counted as number of pieces, number of licenses used, number of users etc., 3) Identifiability – identified as a standardised product, 4) Movability and storage – can be delivered and stored and accounted as an inventory, 5) Ownership of the right to use, 6) Produced/reproduced through a process, and 7) Marketable/tradable - can be marketed and sold using standard marked price (except when volume discounts, bid pricing and market promotion offers are applicable).

[12] See: http://pn.ispirt.in/tax-challenges-of-the-spisoftware-product-industry-and-budget-recommendations-made-by-ispirt/.

[13] The guidelines issued in November 2015 permitting a select 15 categories in Single Brand retail to sell their products online were further altered in March 2016 by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to allow single brand retail by brick and mortar stores operating in India and Indian manufacturers. The impact of FDI policy on businesses can be understood with cases of alteration of business structure and distancing of e-commerce companies with their subsidiary sellers on allegations of violation of existing norms. The DIPP submitted to the Delhi HC that the ‘market place’ business models adopted by Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal etc were not recognized under law as they had resorted to direct sales to customers. Further, the legality of promotional funding would also be questioned on the ground that an intermediary cannot facilitate any scheme of discounts by bearing the difference in the price of the goods sold as to that extent, it is acting as the seller. This would not be in the interests of the consumers, who could earlier take advantage of the various discounts offered in the form of marketing cost reimbursement, bonus schemes etc. With such strong policies, the possibility of equality of prices between online and brick and mortar stores cannot be discarded.

[14] http://www.livemint.com/Politics/hglep85yZOQzChj6KRrrCK/Govt-allows-100-FDI-in-ecommerce-marketplace-model.html.

[15] See: http://pn.ispirt.in/sign-startup-bridge-petition-and-promote-stay-in-india-checklist/.

[16] See: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-05-14/news/73083932_1_nasscom-software-industry-body-ip-rights.

6. Author Profile

Pavishka Mittal is a law student at West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata and has completed her second year. She takes contemporary dance very seriously and hopes to contribute to the dance community in India. Other than dancing, she indulges in binge-watching in her spare time.

 

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