Tax Liability with Contract Research
Contract research is generally understood to be scientific research commissioned by (frequently commercial, but also public) funders in the form of a research assignment or a research cooperation. The goal of the research assignment here is prescribed by the client/funder, and the results of the research as well as any rights to publication, protection, copyright, usage, and exploitation are exclusively, or at least partially, reserved for the client. The aforementioned contents are established contractually.
Up to the end of 2003, services in the area of contract research provided by colleges were tax free according to § 4, Nr. 21a, UStG. After the ECJ declared this regulation illegal in June 2002, lawmakers cancelled § 4, Nr. 21a, UStG (old version) for the tax change law of 2003 with an effective date of January 1st, 2004, so that the the previously applicable tax exemption would expire on December 31st, 2003.
Since January 1st, 2004, money received for research activities from third parties are only tax-free if they are donations or so-called genuine subsidies that are not dependent on specific sales but are rather granted independent of any specific service, because they are paid in the interest of mainly public interest (e.g. for structure policy, economic, or generic political reasons). Reserving exploitation rights for the sponsors or approval rights for the publication of results usually leads to a tax-liable exchange of services if the reservations do not solely serve to optimize research activities and to secure the results for the general public. It does not matter whether the research activity represents basic or application-oriented research.