Denmark vs Adecco A/S, Oct 2019, High Court, Case No SKM2019.537.OLR

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The question in this case was whether royalty payments from a loss making Danish subsidiary Adecco A/S (H1 A/S in the decision) to its Swiss parent company Adecco SA (G1 SA in the decision – an international provider of temporary and permanent employment services active throughout the entire range of sectors in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia – for use of trademarks and trade names, knowhow, international network intangibles, and business concept were deductible expenses for tax purposes or not.

In  2013, the Danish tax authorities (SKAT) had amended Adecco A/S’s taxable income for the years 2006-2009 by a total of DKK 82 million.

Section 2 of the Tax Assessment Act. Paragraph 1 states that, when calculating the taxable income, group affiliates must apply prices and terms for commercial or economic transactions in accordance with what could have been agreed if the transactions had been concluded between independent parties.

SKAT does not consider it in accordance with section 2 of the Tax Assessment Act that during the period 2006 to 2009, H1 A/S had to pay royalty to G1 SA for the right to use trademark, “know-how intangibles” and “ international network intangibles ”.

An independent third party, in accordance with OECD Guidelines 6.14, would not have agreed on payment of royalties in a situation where there is a clear discrepancy between the payment and the value of licensee’s business. During the period 2006 to 2009, H1 A/S did not make a profit from the use of the licensed intangible assets. Furthermore, an independent third party would not have accepted an increase in the royalty rate in 2006, where the circumstances and market conditions in Denmark meant that higher profits could not be generated.

H1 A/S has also incurred considerable sales and marketing costs at its own expense and risk. Sales and marketing costs may be considered extraordinary because the costs are considered to be disproportionate to expected future earnings. This assessment takes into account the licensing agreement, which states in Article 8.2 that the termination period is only 3 months, and Article 8.6, which states that H1 A/S will not receive compensation for goodwill built up during the contract period if the contract is terminated.

H1 A/S has built and maintained the brand as well as built up “brand value” on the Danish market. The company has contributed to value of intangible assets that they do not own. In SKAT’s opinion, an independent third party would not incur such expenses without some form of compensation or reduction in the royalty payment, cf. OECD Guidelines 6.36 – 6.38.

If H1 A/S was not associated with the trademark owners, H1 A/S would, in SKAT’s opinion, have considered other alternatives such as terminating, renegotiating or entering into more profitable licensing agreements, cf. OECD Guidelines 1.34-1.35. A renegotiation is precisely a possibility in this situation, as Article 8.2 of the license agreement states that the agreement for both parties can be terminated at three months’ notice.

The control of the group has resulted in H1 A/S maintaining unfavorable agreements, not negotiating better terms and not seeking better alternatives.

In addition, SKAT finds that the continuing losses realized by the company are also due to the Group’s interest in being represented on the Danish market. In order for the Group to service the global customers that are essential to the Group’s strategy, it is important to be represented in Denmark in order to be able to offer contracts in all the countries where the customer has branches. Such a safeguard of the Group’s interest would require an independent third party to be paid, and the company must therefore also be remunerated accordingly, especially when the proportion of global customers in Denmark is significantly lower than in the other Nordic countries.

Adecco A/S submitted that the company’s royalty payments were operating expenses deductible under section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act and that it was entitled to tax deductions for royalty payments of 1.5% of the company’s turnover in the first half of 2006 and 2% up to and including 2009, as these prices were in line with what would have been agreed if the transactions had been concluded between independent parties and thus compliant  with the requirement in section 2 of the Tax Assessment Act (- the arm’s length principle) . In particular, Adecco A/S claimed that the company had lifted its burden of proof that the basic conditions for deductions pursuant to section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act were met, and the royalty payments thus deductible to the extent claimed.

According to section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act expenses incurred during the year to acquire, secure and maintain income are deductible for tax purposes. There must be a direct and immediate link between the expenditure incurred and the acquisition of income.

The company hereby stated that it was not disputed that the costs were actually incurred and that it was evident that the royalty payment was in the nature of operating costs, since the company received significant economic value for the payments.

The High Court ruled in favor of the Danish tax authorities and concluded as follows:

Despite the fact that, as mentioned above, there is evidence to suggest that H1 A/S’s payment of royalties for the use of the H1 A/S trademark is a deductible operating expense, the national court finds, in particular, that H1 A/S operates in a national Danish market, where price is by far the most important competitive parameter, that the company has for a very long period largely only deficit, that it is an agreement on payment to the company’s ultimate parent company – which must be assumed to have its own purpose of being represented on the Danish market – and that royalty payments must be regarded as a standard condition determined by G1 SA independent of the market in which the Danish company is working, as well as the information on the marketing costs incurred in the Danish company and in the Swiss company compared with the failure to respond to the relevant provocations that H1 A/S has not lifted the burden of proof that the payments of royalties to the group-affiliated company G1 SA, constitutes a deductible operating expense, cf. section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act. 4.5 and par. 4.6, the national court finds that the company’s royalty payment cannot otherwise be regarded as a deductible operating expense.

The decision of the High Court was later overturned by the Supreme Court


Part 1 – Click here for translation

Part 2 – Click here for translation

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