To qualify for R&D tax credits, a business can be working to develop new products, to improve or strengthen existing products, and/or to install, develop or upgrade manufacturing processes.
The IRS applies Four Tests to determine whether a research activity qualifies for an R&D tax credit. Along with meeting these tests, a company must also assume the financial risk associated with its R&D activities.
1. R&D Must Be Technological
Research and development must fundamentally rely on the principles of the physical or biological sciences, engineering, or computer science.
2. For a Business Purpose
R&D work needs to have been carried out for a business purpose — to develop a new product or other component, or improve an existing one, in quality, reliability, performance, and/or functionality.
3. To Eliminate Uncertainty
The R&D work must have been directed toward eliminating uncertainty, by generating new information on developing or improving a product.
4. With a Process of Experimentation
The work must involve a process of experimentation — simulation, modeling, testing, and/or deliberate trial and error.
Employees conducting research activities that qualify for R&D tax credits are generally doing hands-on work that aims to identify and resolve technical problems. Some examples include:
Qualifying research commonly involves immediate supervision or first-line management, as in the case of an engineering manager who directly supervises a team of engineers and technicians, but who does not perform hand-on development work. Examples include:
Qualifying research often involves support that employees provide. For example: