By Abhirup Ghosh & Smriti Wadehra (firstname.lastname@example.org) (email@example.com)
Usage of common brand is a common practice that we notice among companies which are part of large conglomerates. Often the brands created by one single entity of a group are used by its related parties, however, these transactions are often structured with differential pricing terms i.e. either these transactions are not charged at all or are overpriced.
Therefore, in order to increase transparency and regulate to these transactions, a Committee on Corporate Governance constituted by the SEBI under the chairmanship of Uday Kotak has proposed disclosure requirements this kind of transactions.
In this article we will primarily discuss the proposal made by the Committee threadbare. Additionally, we will also discuss the impact of indirect taxes on such transactions.
Brand usage and Royalty as per Listing Regulations
The erstwhile provisions of SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (‘Listing Regulations’) did not provide anything for royalties or brand usage paid to related parties. However, a SEBI constituted committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Uday Kotak on 2nd June, 2018 provided a report on corporate governance with certain recommendations for implementation. One of the recommendations was to insert provision pertaining to payments made for brand and royalty to related parties.
As noted above, often the transactions involving usage of brands and royalty payments are structured with differential pricing terms. The Committee has noted the importance of brand usage and it also brought the importance of disclosing the terms relating to payments against these brand usages, considering the role it plays in driving the sales or margin.
In this regard, the Committee suggested that where royalty payout levels are high and exceed 5% of consolidated revenues, the terms of conditions of such royalty must require shareholder approval and should be regarded as material related party transactions. The Listing Regulations currently prescribe a materiality limit at ten percent of annual consolidated turnover of the Company. Therefore, the Committee prescribed a stricter limit for brand usage and royalty i.e. 5% instead of the existing limit which is 5% of consolidated turnover.
SEBI applied its discretion to make the provision stricter and subsequently, made the following insertion in the Listing Regulations:
“23(IA) Notwithstanding the above, with effect from July 01, 2019 a transaction involving payments made to a related party with respect to brand usage or royalty shall be considered material if the transaction(s) to be entered into individually or taken together with previous transactions during a financial year, exceed two percent of the annual consolidated turnover of the listed entity as per the last audited financial statements of the listed entity.”
On reading the aforesaid provisions and basis our discussion, we understand that from 1st July, 2019 transactions involving payments made to a related party with respect to brand usage or royalty shall be considered material if the transaction(s) to be entered into individually or taken together with previous transactions during a financial year, exceed two percent of the annual consolidated turnover of the listed entity as per the last audited financial statements of the listed entity.
It is pertinent to note that all transactions entered with related party for brand usage and royalty shall always be regarded as related party transactions. However, the trigger point of qualifying such transactions as material related party transaction is when the quantum of payout exceeds two percent of the annual consolidated turnover of the listed entity.
Whether provisions applicable for payments received for Brand usage and royalties?
While the provision talks about royalty payments to be treated as material related party transactions, but what remains to be answered is whether royalty receipts would also be considered as material related party transactions.
Please note that provisions of the amendment clearly provides:
involving payments made to a related party with respect to brand usage or royalty
Therefore, the applicability of the provisions appears to apply only in case of payments made to related party for brand usage and royalty. However, this does not seems to be the intent of law. Every transaction has two parties, in the present case, the two parties are the receiver and the giver. It does not seem rationally correct to include one side of the coin within the ambit of the law while keeping the other side out. Therefore, ideally receipt of royalty must also be treated as material related party transaction for the purpose of Regulation 23(IA) of the Listing Regulations.
Meaning of “Royalty”
Despite insertion of a new regulation dealing with royalty payments, the Listing Regulations do not define the term royalty. The meaning of the term, however, can be borrowed from the Income Tax Act, 1961 which provides for an elaborate definition. Section 9(1) of Income Tax Act, 1961 reads as:
“royalty” means consideration (including any lump sum consideration but excluding any consideration which would be the income of the recipient chargeable under the head “Capital gains”) for—
(i) the transfer of all or any rights (including the granting of a licence) in respect of a patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property ;
(ii) the imparting of any information concerning the working of, or the use of, a patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property;
(iii) the use of any patent, invention, model, design, secret formula or process or trade mark or similar property ;
(iv) the imparting of any information concerning technical, industrial, commercial or scientific knowledge, experience or skill ;
(iva) the use or right to use any industrial, commercial or scientific equipment but not including the amounts referred to in section 44BB;
(v) the transfer of all or any rights (including the granting of a licence) in respect of any copyright, literary, artistic or scientific work including films or video tapes for use in connection with television or tapes for use in connection with radio broadcasting, but not including consideration for the sale, distribution or exhibition of cinematographic films ; or
(vi) the rendering of any services in connection with the activities referred to in sub-clauses (i) to (iv), (iva) and (v).
Explanation 5.—For the removal of doubts, it is hereby clarified that the royalty includes and has always included consideration in respect of any right, property or information, whether or not—
(a) the possession or control of such right, property or information is with the payer;
(b) such right, property or information is used directly by the payer;
(c) the location of such right, property or information is in India.
Therefore, as per the aforesaid provisions, consideration for transfer of rights (including granting of a licence) in respect of a trade mark or similar property or for use of a trademark or transfer of rights (including granting of a licence) in respect of any copyright, literary, artistic or scientific work, falls under the definition of ‘Royalty’ under the IT Act. Accordingly, any transaction with the related party for the aforesaid activities shall be regarded as related party transaction for usage of royalty.
Similarly, the term ‘brand usage’ has not been defined under the Listing Regulations. In this regard, reference may be drawn from section 2(zb) of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 which identifies brand as a trade mark or label which is an intellectual property right. Accordingly, any transactions of brand usage by related party shall be regarded as related party transaction.
Impact of GST laws on brand usage transactions
After the introduction of regulation 23(1A) it is very clear the companies will have to structure the brand usage transactions properly and pricing policy of the same shall have be relooked at, however, one must not forget the potential impact GST laws can have on these transactions.
Rule 28 of Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST) Rules, 2017 states that all transactions between related persons must be carried out on arm’s length basis and should be priced at open market value. This applies to all transactions between related parties, needless to say even brand usage transactions will also be covered under this.
Therefore, if going forward the parties decide to execute the transactions without any consideration, in order to escape the provisions of regulation 23(1A), the same shall be subjected to rule 28 which provides for computation of notional value and GST will have to paid on the notional value.
However, rule 28 provides for an exception which states that if an invoice is raised by the supplier with GST on it and the recipient of the supply is eligible to claim input tax credit on the value of services, then the value quoted in the invoice shall be deemed to be the open market value of the goods or services.
Therefore, to ensure that notional value taxation does not apply, the parties must refrain from structuring transactions with nil consideration. However, if the same involves royalty payments of more than 2% of the consolidated turnover, it will have to comply with regulation 23(1A).Therefore, the companies must be mindful of both these provisions while structuring this kind of transactions henceforth.
While the Committee does not intend to stop brand usages in the country, all it wants to establish is a fair and transparent practise of charging royalty payments for the usage of brands. Accordingly, listed companies have to be more careful before charging for brand usages, as the same have come under the radar of materiality and have to be reported. Further, considering the tax implications, the structuring of such kind of transaction shall be important. To summarise, the Listing Regulations have introduced a new dimension to payments made for brand usages and royalties.