Spireas v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 17-1084 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Spireas earned $40 million in technology license royalties in 2007-2008s. Royalties paid under a license agreement are usually taxed as ordinary income at 35 percent but Spireas claimed capital gains treatment (15 percent) under 26 U.S.C. 1235(a), which applies to money received “in consideration of” “[a] transfer . . . of property consisting of all substantial rights to a patent.” The IRS disagreed and gave Spireas notice of a $5.8 million deficiency for the two tax years. The Tax Court and Third Circuit affirmed. To qualify for automatic capital-gains treatment, income must be paid in exchange for a “transfer of property” that consists of “all substantial rights” to a “patent.” Not every transfer of “rights” qualifies because the statute grants capital gains treatment only to transfers of property. Spireas’s original theory was that he reduced the formulation to practice in 2000, giving him the required property interest, and later assigned his interest. Spireas later abandoned that theory, arguing that he transferred his rights prospectively in 1998. Because that was two years before the invention of the formulation, Spireas’s second position cannot depend on the legal standard of reduction to actual practice to establish that he held a property right at the time of transfer. Spireas’s sole claim on appeal was, therefore, waived.