Nortel, Lucent and Taxing Embedded Software in California Under a Technology Transfer Agreement

As consumer products become more high tech, the line between computers and traditional devices has blurred. Even basic products, such as toothbrushes, alarm clocks, doorbells, smartphones, cameras, home security systems, printers and copiers now include technical software that enables new functionality options for the device. As a general principle, tangible personal property, but not intangibles or services, is subject to California Sales and Use Tax. Software “embedded” into a product has value distinct from the value of the rest of the device and that distinct (intangible) value is not subject to sales tax. On the heels of two recent taxpayer victories in the California Court of Appeal relating to taxation of software, this article discusses current developments on how to treat such embedded software for California sales (and use) tax purposes.

(The remainder of this article can be accessed in the January 2017 edition of the Journal of Multistate Taxation and Incentives.)