Poland vs “Sport O.B. SA”, March 2022, Provincial Administrative Court, Case No I SA/Rz 4/22

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Following a business restructuring, rights in a trademark developed and used by O.B SA was transferred to a related party “A”. The newly established company A had no employees and all functions in the company was performed by O.B. SA. Anyhow, going forward O.B SA would now pay a license fee to A for using the trademark. The payments from O.B SA were the only source of income for “A” (apart from interest). According to the O.B. group placement of the trademark into a separate entity was motivated by a desire to increase recognition and creditworthiness of the group, which was a normal practice for business entities at the time. In 2014 and 2015 O.B. SA deducted license fees paid to A of PLN 6 647 596.19 and PLN 7 206 578.24.

The tax authorities opened an audited of O.B. SA and determined that the license fees paid to A were excessive. To establish an arm’s length remuneration of A the tax authorities applied the TNMM method with ROTC as PLI. The market range of costs to profits for similar activities was between 2.78% and 19.55%. For the estimation of income attributable to “A”, the upper quartile, i.e. 19.55 %, was used. The arm’s length remuneration of A in 2014 and 2015 was determined to be PLN 158,888.53 and PLN 111,609.73. On that basis the tax authorities concluded that O.B. SA had overstated its costs in 2014 and 2015 by a total amount of PLN 13 583 676.17 and an assessment of additional taxable income was issued.

A complaint was filed by O.B. SA.

Judgement of the Court

The Court dismissed the complaint of OB SA and upheld the decision of the tax authorities

Excerpts
“….the dependence of “A” on the applicant cannot be in any doubt.
Nor can it be disputed that the abovementioned dependence – the relationship between ‘A’ and the applicant as described above – influenced the terms agreed between the parties to the licence agreement. Invoices issued by “A” to the company for this purpose amounted to multi-million amounts, and all this took place in conditions in which “A” did not employ any workers, and performed only uncomplicated administrative activities related to monitoring of possible use of the trademark by other, unauthorised entities.
All this took place in conditions in which licence fees were, in principle, the main and only source of revenue for “A” (apart from interest), while the trade mark itself in fact originated from the applicant. It was also to it that the mark eventually came in 2017, after the incorporation of “A”.
The company’s claims that the hive-off of the trade mark into a separate entity was motivated by a desire to increase the company’s recognition and creditworthiness, which was a normal practice for business entities at the time, are unconvincing. On that point, it should be noted that, operating under the GKO with the same name, the applicant’s recognition and the name under which it operated were already sufficiently well established. As regards the increase in the creditworthiness or market power of the users of the trade mark, the applicant’s contentions on this point too are empty. Moreover, even if it were to be accepted, at least in the context of the activities of ‘A’, that the creditworthiness of ‘A’ had been increased, the advantage which the applicant derives from such an operation would appear to be of little significance. In fact, it obtained this benefit to a significant extent from the formation of relations with “A”, as a result of which the value of its income taxable income, and thus its tax liability in 2015, was significantly reduced.
The benefits, mainly tax ones, are also indirectly pointed out by the applicant herself, indicating, inter alia, that there were no grounds for the authorities to question the tax optimisations, prior to 15 July 2016. This only confirms the position of the authority in the discussed scope.”

“The authority carefully selected appropriate comparative material, relying on reliable data concerning a similar category of entrepreneurs.
Contrary to the applicant’s submissions, the authority analysed the terms and conditions of the cooperation between the applicant and ‘A’ when it embarked on the analysis of the appropriate estimation method in the circumstances of the case. In doing so, it took into account both the specific subject-matter of the cooperation and the overall context of the cooperation between the two entities.
As for the method itself, the authority correctly found that “A” carried out simple administrative activities, and therefore took into account the general costs of management performed by this entity. In this respect it should be noted that the Head of the Customs and Tax Office accepted the maximum calculated indicator of transaction margin amounting to 19.55%.
The applied method, which should be emphasised, is an estimation method, which allows only for obtaining approximate values by means of it. Moreover, it is based on comparative data obtained independently of the circumstances of the case, therefore it is not possible to adjust the results obtained on the basis of its principles by the costs of depreciation, as suggested by the applicant, alleging, inter alia, that § 18(1) of the Regulation was infringed by the authority. Moreover, the costs of depreciation of the trade mark by ‘A’ related strictly to its business and therefore did not affect its relations with the applicant.
The company also unjustifiably alleges that the authority breached Article 23(3) of the Regulation by failing to take account of the economic reasons for the restructuring of its business in the context of the GKO’s general principles of operation. For, as already noted above, there is no rational basis for accepting the legitimacy of carrying out such restructuring, both in 2015 and thereafter. And the fact of the return of the trademark right to the Applicant only supports this kind of conclusion.
Nor can there be any doubt as to the availability to the applicant, in 2015, of an adequate range of data relating to aspects of its transactions. Indeed, it was the applicant that initiated the transfer of the trade mark rights and “A” was headed by a representative of its management. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that the scope of data on the counterparty, as well as its characteristics and qualities, was significantly narrower in the case of the company than that which was within the reach of the authority at the time the contested decision was issued.”

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Poland vs TrademarkI SA_Rz 4_22 - Wyrok WSA w Rzeszowie z 2022-03-15

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1 comment on Poland vs “Sport O.B. SA”, March 2022, Provincial Administrative Court, Case No I SA/Rz 4/22

  1. A reasoned decision by the Court. Aggressive planning by the MNE group. It appears transfer pricing audit was not done for the year of transfer of rights in trademark.
    It is not clear how the transferee got trademark free of cost while the same were valued and depreciation was claimed.

    Whether the transaction was recharacterized? Court says no but the transfer of trademark was ignored and the transferee was remunerated as low value service provider.

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