DIT vs. Ericsson AB (Delhi High Court)
The assessee, a Swedish company, entered into contracts with ten cellular operators for the supply of hardware equipment and software. The contracts were signed in India. The supply of the equipment was on CIF basis and the assessee took responsibility thereof till the goods reached India. The equipment was not to be accepted by the customer till the acceptance test was completed (in India). The assessee claimed that the income arising from the said activity was not chargeable to tax in India. The AO & CIT (A) held that the assessee had a “business connection” in India u/s 9(1)(i) & a “permanent establishment” under Article 5 of the DTAA. It was also held that the income from supply of software was assessable as “royalty” u/s 9(1)(vi) & Article 13. On appeal, the Special Bench of the Tribunal (Motorola Inc 95 ITD 269 (Del)) held that as the equipment had been transferred by the assessee offshore, the profits therefrom were not chargeable to tax. It was also held that the profits from the supply of software was not assessable to tax as “royalty”. On appeal by the department to the High Court, HELD dismissing the appeal:
(i) The profits from the supply of equipment were not chargeable to tax in India because the property and risk in goods passed to the buyer outside India. The assessee had not performed installation service in India. The fact that the contracts were signed in India could not by itself create a tax liability. The nomenclature of a “turnkey project” or “works contract” was not relevant. The fact that the assessee took “overall responsibility” was also not material. Though the supply of equipment was subject to the “acceptance test” performed in India, this was not material because the contract made it clear that the “acceptance test” was not a material event for passing of the title and risk in the equipment supplied. If the system did not conform to the specifications, the only consequence was that the assessee had to cure the defect. The position might have been different if the buyer had the right to reject the equipment on the failure of the acceptance test carried out in India. Consequently, the assessee did not have a “business connection” in India. The question whether the assessee had a “Permanent Establishment” was not required to be gone into (Ishikawajma Harima 288 ITR 408 (SC), Skoda 172 ITR 358 (AP) & Mahavir Commercial 86 ITR 147 followed);
(ii) The argument that the software component of the supply should be assessed as “royalty” is not acceptable because the software was an integral part of the GSM mobile telephone system and was used by the cellular operator for providing cellular services to its customers. It was embedded in the equipment and could not be independently used. It merely facilitated the functioning of the equipment and was an integral part thereof. The fact that in the supply contract, the lump sum price was bifurcated is not material. There is a distinction between the acquisition of a “copyright right” and a “copyrighted article” (Tata Consultancy Services 271 ITR 401 (SC) Sundwiger EMFG 266 ITR 110 & Dassault Systems 229 CTR 125 (AAR) followed).