Patent Boxes: Innovation in Tax Policy and Tax Policy for Innovation

To grow and attract innovation-based businesses, countries need tax policies that promote both research and commercialization.

Download FAQs about Patent Boxes (PDF)

An effective corporate tax system reflects current economic realities. As such, the U.S. corporate tax system is in need of reform, for it reflects economic realities of a generation ago. Today, the U.S. economy faces intense global competition for economic advantage, particularly in innovation-based, higher wage industries. Moreover, the economy is based more on innovation and intellectual property (IP). IP is also more mobile, as companies can perform R&D and patent in countries around the world. Therefore, nations that hope to grow and attract innovation-based business establishments need tax policies that promote both the conduct of research and its commercialization.

Toward that end, a number of countries recently have adopted or expanded R&D tax incentives as well as developed new tax incentives to spur the commercialization of that R&D. These incentives or “patent boxes” (so-called because there is a box to tick on the tax form) allow corporate income from the sale of patented products to be taxed at a lower rate than other income. Eight nations (seven in Europe) have enacted patent box regimes that incentivize firms to patent or produce other related innovations. And a ninth, the UK, is set to put in place the incentive in 2013.

Proponents of patent boxes argue that they increase country competitiveness not only by spurring firms to invest more in innovation but also by providing a more competitive corporate tax climate for increasingly innovation-based firms. Skeptics claim that patent boxes do not actually address market failure because firms already have all the incentives they need to commercialize innovation in the marketplace.

This report seeks to inform the debate on whether patent boxes can help promote R&D and commercialization and if a patent box is appropriate for the United States. It articulates two economic rationales for why the United States should follow our European and Asian competitors and institute a patent box system. First, a patent box reduces the financial risk involved in innovation, better matching firm rewards with societal benefits, including the creation of high-wage jobs. If a patent box is designed in a way that links the incentive to the conduct of R&D and production of the patented product in the United States, it would go even further in spurring the creation and location of more innovation-based jobs in the United States. Second, a patent box would lower the effective corporate tax rate for knowledge-based establishments located in the United States, making it easier for them to compete against establishments in nations providing robust innovation incentives.

A patent box that significantly reduces the corporate tax rate on revenue from qualifying IP, based in part on the extent to which corresponding R&D and production is conducted domestically, would provide firms with a much stronger incentive to innovate and produce in the United States.

As such, Congress should establish a patent box regime modeled after those of other nations, allowing companies in the United States to pay a significantly lower rate on corporate income from patented products where the share of profits that are taxed at the lower rate depends on the extent to which related R&D and production is conducted within the United States.