Still thinking about the $5 million gift opportunity? Think patents.

Taxes and estate planning are on the minds of many as the 2012 year winds down and the Bush tax cuts may be coming to an abrupt end. Among the biggest concerns is the likely expiration of the $5 million gift tax exemption. So it’s good news to know that a patent estate can be a real boon to estate planning.

Gifting patents can transfer significant value to the next generation and also address specific concerns:
  • Independent valuation for the IRS
  • Control of the family business
  • Flexibility to sell the business
  • Restricted use of the transferred intellectual property

Patents are usually unvalued and hence a real challenge in family offices for estate planning. But used properly, patents other IP assets can provide value for both intergenerational changes in control and/or minimizing estate taxes. Carthage Intellectual Capital Management (‘Carthage’) has proprietary processes to help family businesses and their tax and estate planning professionals. Here is a case in point:

Suppose a family business with patents or other IP does not intend to transfer the business yet from a parent generation to successor generations. The parent generation wants to make an effective gift of business assets within the $5 million gift tax limitation. But the business does not want to jeopardize ongoing control of the business. Further, the business will ideally want a reversible transaction should future business circumstances need to repatriate the IP assets. Finally, the transaction should be straightforward and not raise valuation questions with the IRS or other taxation authorities. With the caveat that the following is a hypothetical and not a definitive recommendation, here is how IP can be considered in a gifting situation.

First we assume there are intellectual property (IP) assets (patents, trademarks, and copyrights are preferred) that confer substantial economic value to the business. If these have been internally created, the balance sheet will typically not show this value. An IP holding enterprise is then formed to receive the IP and the license-back is created with the principal business. The enterprise may then be gifted to a family trust whose principal purpose is to maintain the IP assets, and receive and distribute back royalties to family members participating in the trust (other entities may be equally suitable but we call them a ‘trust’ as a generic description). In this case, the license back will depend on future occurrences as to when or how much royalty is paid as an annual rate for the license back itself. This in effect defers the need to value the IP assets at anything above the tax free gift basis at the time of gifting as there is not a fully defined income stream upon which to base a higher asset value.

Control of the IP is determined by the license which remains with the operating business and will typically be an exclusive license. The business can separately reserve a ‘put’ to reacquire the IP holding company at its nominal gift value less amortization at a future date, should the business need to repatriate the IP assets themselves (say, for a sale to a third party). This makes the transfer effectively reversible by the parent generation through the operating business. So long as the nominal value of the reversal is the same as the gift it further minimizes the risk of IRS valuation challenges.

If in the future the business is sold to a third party, a more substantial license royalty can be triggered as a consequence of the sale. The necessary use of the IP becomes a warranty obligation of the purchaser as the transferee of the license back. The sale price of the business may then consider the present value of the license back royalties payable to the trust. The selling family business can accept a lower effective sale price from  purchaser because the seller will be required to pick up the license back and make royalty payments triggered by the sale event. For the purchaser, the deductibility of the royalties is generally less that the borrowed capital and associated costs to acquire all assets in a fee simple transaction which can tolerate some purchase premium in a competitive bid situation.

The trust receives and distributes royalty income on a current basis and does not require a change in basis in the IP assets. The certainty of future royalty payments that rests on the degree of risk of warranty default can allow the trust to borrow a principal sum based on the pledge of the continuing royalty income. This principal can be distributed to the trust beneficiaries tax free as an advance on future income. Running interest payments together with amortization of the IP transfer basis will offset future income taxes as a deductible trust expense. Alternately, the trust can sell off the IP assets and realize capital gains at that time for a distribution and liquidation of the trust itself.

Once again, Carthage has extensive experience and the patented processes that can guide family businesses through evaluation of their IP assets and the transactions that can satisfy their estate planning needs. Because these are sophisticated transactions, you will want to consult legal and accounting professionals to determine the suitability of IP for tax and estate planning purposes. But the good news is that Carthage will be there to help you when the time is right to unleash another hidden value of your IP. For questions please contact Carthage at info@carthageic.com.

For Estate Planning, Don’t Forget the Patent Estate (Part 2)

In my last blog we discussed the good news as to how a patent estate can be a real boon to estate planning.

To recap, patents are usually unvalued and hence a real challenge in family offices for estate planning. But used properly, patents and other IP assets can provide value for intergenerational changes in control and/or minimizing estate taxes. Here is a second case where Carthage Intellectual Capital Management (‘Carthage’) has proprietary processes to help family businesses and their tax and estate planning professionals.

Case 2- A family business with IP does not intend to transfer the business from a parent generation to successor generations. We will assume there are intellectual property (IP) assets (patents, trademarks, and copyrights are preferred) that confer substantial economic value to the business. An IP holding enterprise is formed to receive the IP and the license-back is created with the principal business. The IP holding enterprise may then be gifted to a family trust whose principal purpose is to maintain the IP assets, and receive and distribute back royalties to family members participating in the trust (other entities may be equally suitable but we call them a ‘trust’ as a generic description). In this case, the license back will depend on future occurrences as to when or how much royalty is paid as an annual rate for the license back itself. This in effect defers the need to value the IP assets at anything above the tax free gift basis at the time of gifting as there is not a fully defined income stream upon which to base an asset value.

If in the future the business is sold to a third party, a more substantial license royalty can be triggered as a consequence of the sale. The necessary use of the IP becomes a warranty obligation of the purchaser as the transferee of the license back. The sale price of the business may then consider the present value of the license back royalties payable to the trust. The selling family business can accept a lower effective sale price from  purchaser because the seller will be required to pick up the license back and make royalty payments triggered by the sale event. For the purchaser, the deductibility of the royalties is generally less that the borrowed capital and associated costs to acquire all assets in a fee simple transaction which can tolerate some purchase premium in a competitive bid situation.

The trust receives and distributes royalty income on a current basis and does not require a change in basis in the IP assets. The certainty of future royalty payments rests on the degree of risk of warranty default. If this is a low risk, it can allow the trust to borrow a principal sum based on the pledge of the continuing royalty income. This principal can be distributed to the trust beneficiaries tax free as an advance on future income. Running interest payments together with amortization of the IP transfer basis will offset future income taxes as a deductible trust expense. Alternately, the trust can sell off the IP assets and realize capital gains at that time for a distribution and liquidation of the trust itself.

Once again, Carthage has extensive experience and the patented processes that can guide family businesses through evaluation of their IP assets and the transactions that can satisfy their estate planning needs. Because these are sophisticated transactions, you will want to consult legal and accounting professionals to determine the suitability of IP for tax and estate planning purpose. But the good news is that Carthage will be there to help you when the time is right to unleash another hidden value of your IP. For another example, check my previous blog at www.carthageic.com.

For Estate Planning, Don’t Forget the Patent Estate (Part 1)

Lately, when I read about patents in the news, the focus is usually on mega companies and mega patent estates.  It’s true that about 80% of all US patents issue to large institutions and big businesses. But the 20% that’s left over still matters to the small businesses and inventors that own and use them. Taxes and estate planning are on the minds of many in this 20% category as the 2012 year winds down and the Bush tax cuts may be coming to an abrupt end. So it’s good news to know that a patent estate can be a real boon to estate planning.

Patents are usually unvalued and hence a real challenge in family offices for estate planning. But used properly, patents and other IP assets can provide value for both intergenerational changes in control and/or minimizing estate taxes. Here is the first of two cases where Carthage Intellectual Capital Management (‘Carthage’) has proprietary processes to help family businesses and their tax and estate planning professionals.

Case 1- Consider the family business where the next generation has taken management control of a business while the parent generation still owns a substantial portion of the business. If there are intellectual property (IP) assets (patents, trademarks, and copyrights are preferred), odds are good that they are unvalued even though they may confer substantial economic value to the business. If the IP assets are placed in a holding company, they can enter into a license back with the principal business for defined, time-based royalties to be paid back over the remaining economic life of the IP. This license-back allows for easy computation of a present value of the holding company. The stock of the IP holding company can then be exchanged with the business stock held by the parent generation in a tax free, ‘like kind’ exchange of property of equal value.

The royalties paid to the holding company can be distributed to provide an annuity income to the parent generation that now owns the IP holding company (and no longer owns the business). In turn the parent generation can, at its discretion, gift portions of the royalties to the next generation that may or may not be participants in the business. The royalty payments themselves are typically completely deductible to the back licensed business which lowers the total tax burden of the business. The back license itself is now an IP asset of a known transaction value that can be subsequently monetized by borrowings or subsequent sale and back-licensing. This latter option now increases the financial liquidity of the business by raising cash that reflects the IP asset value. Finally, the IP itself in the holding company is an amortizing asset, so over time, it dissipates to a zero or de minimis value for estate succession purposes. The amortization also acts to lower the net tax basis of the gross royalties.

Carthage has extensive experience and the patented processes that can guide family businesses through evaluation of their IP assets and the transactions that can satisfy their estate planning needs. To be sure these are sophisticated transactions and you will want to consult your professional service providers to determine the suitability of IP for tax and estate planning purpose. But the good news is that Carthage will be there to help you when the time is right to unleash another hidden value of your IP. For another example, check my next blog at www.carthageic.com.

Cash without Benefits

There is more cash sitting on balance sheets or hiding in mattresses than ever before. What is it waiting for? Not to get screwed out of it again is one answer. Another is what is there worth investing in that can’t get screwed up? As to getting screwed, that’s always part of the risk premium we pay on cash and being careful with who we deal with. But I’d like to suggest one investment that will be hard to screw up and capable of making a very secure return. That investment is intellectual property or IP for short.

We don’t buy or invest in IP today for three reasons. First is, most investors, though they have heard of IP, don’t know what it is, where it comes from or how it is made. The second reason is that we don’t value IP when we make it and we don’t record it on our balance sheets. So even if you do have IP, you treat it as if it were worth nothing. The third reason is that even for those few who know what IP is and what it’s worth, they don’t have any notion of how to turn into an investment without getting screwed.

Capitalism is wonderful for cash in that it can finance the means of supply and the price of demand. Modern capitalism has been particularly good at chasing down price differentials in the cost of supply amongst developing economies to supply the demand of developed countries. But it does involve screwing the wage base of developed economies out of jobs to pay less to workers in the LDC’s. And that’s OK if developed countries keep developing. That is what IP does. It makes IP a unique feature of first world economies.

Unfortunately, the financial sector has been too busy out-placing the current supply side of the current first world economies to learn how to invest in new development. To do that you need to understand investing in IP. As a result not understanding IP as an investment asset, financiers have artificially down sized the pool of credible investments available to investors. When the pool of available investments is limited, then speculation in a perceived finite asset pool is the only way to make money out of assets. This is how financial depressions start. And we are still there.

For those of you yearning to become first world investors here are three things to know. First- IP is patents, trademarks, copyrights and secrets. Concentrate on the first three and you will become rich. Second- you can value IP in use today to know its price. Third- you need to know that Carthage intellectual Capital Management has the people, experience and IP to make your IP a real and ‘screw-proof’ investment that is the future. Learn more at info@carthageic.com.