U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently published a customs valuation ruling that we thought you might find to be of interest. The ruling, HQ H233376 (Sept. 19, 2016) involves the dutiability of royalties paid to a licensor unrelated to the importer or the manufacturer of the imported merchandise. The issue in the ruling was whether the payment of royalties to a third party licensor unrelated to the manufacturer were considered to be a “condition of the sale” of the imported merchandise.
This ruling is worth a quick read, but we have summarized the key facts for your reference below.
The importer entered into an agreement with an unrelated U.S. patent holder to license certain utility patents. The license covered, among other things, the right to “make, have made, use, sell, offer for sale and import” licensed devices. The technology covered by the patents was developed in the United States.
The importer also entered into a manufacturing agreement with an unrelated Malaysian manufacturer to have the imported merchandise made. The agreement authorizes the manufacturer to use the technology disclosed to it by the company to make the imported merchandise. The importer declared upon importation the price it paid to the manufacturer for the goods.
The importer pays the U.S. patent holder a royalty based on the resale price of the imported merchandise in the United States.
Based on these facts, CBP concluded that (i) the royalty was related to the imported merchandise, and (ii) the importer was required to pay it directly to the licensor. As a result, the only remaining issue was whether the royalty payments were a “condition of the sale” of the imported merchandise. This is was particularly important here since the royalties were paid to a licensor who was unrelated to the manufacturer of the imported merchandise (i.e., is a royalty payment to an unrelated third party licensor a condition of the sale of merchandise between two other parties?).
CBP ultimately adopted what it referred to as a “practical, common sense” approach to this issue and concluded that the royalties were part of the dutiable value of the imported merchandise. CBP found it relevant that the royalties were for patents, as opposed to trademarks, and that the licensed technology was necessary to produce the imported merchandise.
The ruling highlights several important points all importers should keep in mind, namely:
(1) royalties paid for patents are more likely to be dutiable under U.S. law than are royalties paid for trademarks, regardless of to whom they are paid (i.e., to the seller or even to a party unrelated to the seller);
(2) the request for internal advice grew out of a Focused Assessment – which demonstrates how closely Regulatory Audit looks at such issues; and
(3) the ruling was issued more than 4 years after the request for internal advice was originally submitted to CBP HQ — which demonstrates how long it takes CBP HQ to issue customs valuation rulings, in particular.
In light of the foregoing, all importers should confirm internally whether any royalties or licenses fees are paid in relation to any imported merchandise. If so, then the agreements should be reviewed to determine whether the royalties or license fees are dutiable additions to value. This is not particularly difficult to do. We regularly help importers with this issue and would be happy to discuss with you how best to do so, if helpful. If such a discussion would be helpful, just let us know.
We hope this is helpful.