Biotech R&D Tax Incentive Case Study

Case Study – Biopolis AU

BioTech R&D activities

Projects biotechnology companies undertake eligible for R&D Tax offset can include:

  • Development of new or improved biotechnology-based equipment, products or processes.
  • Application of existing technology in a new unproven way or context that involves experimentation and the development of new knowledge.

Biopolis AU

The Biopolis group focuses on biotech research, aiming to develop a new biodegradable packaging material for use in a variety of applications.

The use of plastic packaging has a significant impact on the environment and there is a growing demand for environmentally friendly packaging materials. One such material is biodegradable packaging, which is packaging that can be broken down into natural elements by microorganisms as well as local environmental conditions. Biopolis US engaged Biopolis AU to develop a biodegradable packaging product, seen as an important step in reducing the environmental impact of packaging materials.

The company conducted a range of activities in order to research, develop, test and finalise a new type of biodegradable packaging material. After extensive research, Biopolis AU could not find any existing information about raw materials that would inform the development of the packaging to the specifications and at the cost points it required. Biopolis AU thus had to embark upon a process of experimentation.

Biopolis AU began a series of activities to investigate and acquire new information about the raw materials used in existing biodegradable packaging materials and then applied this knowledge in the development of its own new and improved biodegradable packaging material for the agricultural industry.

Biopolis AU considered its activities against the definitions of core and supporting R&D activities.  

It self-assessed that the development of a new biodegradable packaging material for use in a variety of industries based on a new bioactive compound met the requirements to be a core R&D activity because:  

  • There was no current knowledge that it could find in technical publications, existing off the shelf manufacturing processes and other publicly available sources that it could leverage to achieve the desired outcome.  
  • It could only determine the outcome through a systematic progression of work that was based on the principles of an established science, in this case the fields of biochemistry, chemical engineering, engineering design and materials science. 
  • It planned to generate new knowledge about the use of the new bioactive compound in biodegradable packaging. Further, the new learnings were gained about the development of a material that could biodegrade under specific circumstances (i.e. once disposed of and subject to environmental conditions such as rainfall) yet be versatile and strong enough to withstand several use cases.

Biopolis AU assessed eligibility on an activity level, rather than project level and determined that there would be two core activities. With NOAH’s assistance Biopolis AU self-assessed that the two core R&D activities were, ‘Active ingredient development and laboratory testing’ encompassing a range of experimental activities from hypothesising a new active ingredient formulation that could be used to impregnate different plant-based packaging materials, synthesising it in the laboratory, testing it against a range of performance criteria, analysing the results and then drawing logical conclusions. This was an iterative process as test results subsequently informed reformulation until stability, quality and performance criteria were met. 

The second core activity ‘Batch Testing’ included multiple feasibility batches that were manufactured under a variety of production conditions (variables tested included temperature, pressure, active ingredient concentration and types). Tests were carried out to assess the performance and stability characteristics of the end product made under various manufacturing scenarios. At the end of the testing program, Biopolis AU failed to develop a formulation that met the specified performance criteria that was cost-effective in a commercial-scale environment.

Although the outcome of the second core activity was not successful, new learnings were made about the manufacturing process. These new learnings will inform future research.

Biopolis AU assessed that other aspects of the development including project management, background technical reviews, prototype manufacture and test equipment set-up could be registered as supporting R&D activities. These tasks were all within the skills and experience of the company, however, they were directly related to the core R&D activity and the experiments could not be carried out without them. 

Biopolis AU incurred expenditure on R&D salaries, prototyping expenses, third party contractor costs (materials testing) and overheads. Though most of this expenditure was re-imbursed by its parent, Biopolis US, as the activities were undertaken pursuant to an exclusive and compliant agreement, Biopolis AU determined that the activities and expenditure were eligible as foreign owned R&D.

Biopolis AU is a wholly owned Australian subsidiary of a US registered parent, Biopolis US. Biopolis US frequently engages Biopolis AU to undertake R&D activities in order to access the wealth of technical skills and expertise in Biopolis AU. Further, the R&D Tax Incentive incentivises Biopolis US to use its Australian subsidiary to manage the risk of failure in undertaking R&D activities. Biopolis US formalises the R&D arrangement with Biopolis AU in a written agreement, exclusive between the two entities. IP is owned by Biopolis US and all R&D expenditure incurred by Biopolis AU is reimbursed by Biopolis US.

Biopolis AU is a Pty Ltd company incorporated in Australia that is not a tax-exempt entity. It is therefore an eligible R&D entity.

Further Biopolis US is incorporated in the USA. As the USA is a country with which Australia has a double tax agreement, any R&D activities undertaken by Biopolis AU would likely qualify as foreign owned R&D as the R&D is performed pursuant to a complying agreement between the US and AU entities.

On the technical side, Biopolis AU kept documentation usually generated as part of its research and development process including records of literature reviews, a project plan, testing procedures outlining the systematic progression of work and test reports (with results and descriptions of technical issues).   

To differentiate the R&D project from a routine project, it also kept records that evidenced the experimental nature of the work, including:  

  • Presentations to the board setting out the need to conduct R&D and the results/new knowledge expected to be generated,  
  • White papers, journal articles, technology reviews and records of discussions with technical experts in the field (e.g., biochemists, material and process engineers) that were used to establish that the knowledge gap,
  • An R&D database that summarised the technical problems, proposed a hypothesis or design solution to resolve them, described the testing method and the success metrics that were used to evaluate the results.  

To demonstrate that its engineers spent time on R&D, Biopolis AU required its technical laboratory staff  and material scientists to log time using time tracking software. Reports were exported to determine how many hours the development team spent on tasks that formed part of the core and supporting R&D activities vs routine development. Other employees involved in supporting R&D activities such as project management provided time based on other records such as meeting minutes and diary entries. Contractors were asked to provide sufficiently detailed invoices to ensure the work they were engaged to perform could be easily linked to the R&D activities. Prototype expenses were recorded and tracked separately in the accounting system along with descriptions of their use in test reports to highlight their nexus to the R&D Core and Supporting Activities. 

  • NOAH worked with Biopolis AU to clarify the technical scope of the project and advised on how best to break up the activities into “core” and “supporting” limbs for registration with AusIndustry. This included advice on how discrete activities might be grouped under a broader suite of experimental activity without raising the ire of Government for registering what has become known as an “umbrella” project.
  • Assisted Biopolis AU to determine that the activities funded by Biopolis US qualified under the foreign owned R&D provisions.
  • Conducted education sessions with key technical and financial personnel to help Biopolis AU assess activities against the legislation. The definitions of R&D under the program are not necessarily the same as the common understanding of R&D, or experimentation.  
  • Ensured that none of the core R&D activities fell within the exclusion around business-as-usual activities. 
  • Drafted the technical descriptions of the activities conducted in the project with sufficient detail to allow AusIndustry to understand how those activities meet the eligibility requirements. 
  • Prepared the R&D expenditure calculations and information needed to submit the claim as part of the company tax return, ensuring no ineligible expenditure was claimed such as the cost of core technology or expenditure not “at risk”.
  • Worked with Biopolis AU to improve their record keeping systems and processes to contemporaneously identify, evaluate and record eligible manufacturing R&D activities.
  • Kept Biopolis AU informed of the latest case law and guidance and regulator expectations expressed through taxpayer alerts and industry reference group meetings.  

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