Robert J. Kovacev

Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

Robert J. Kovacev

Robert J. Kovacev


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Robert J. Kovacev is a tax controversy partner in Norton Rose Fulbright's Washington, DC and San Francisco offices.

He combines extensive first-chair litigation skills with substantive tax knowledge to represent taxpayers in high-profile, high-stakes tax disputes against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), both at the administrative level and in litigation. These disputes include international tax and transfer pricing issues, tax incentives such as the research tax credit, the Section 199 domestic production activities deduction, and alternative energy tax credits, and the economic substance doctrines. Rob has more than two decades of experience representing clients in Tax Court and in federal district and appellate courts. Recognized by Forbes for having one of the top tax-related Twitter accounts, Rob also provides advice to established and start-up companies on innovation tax incentives, such as the research tax credit. He is a leader in the emerging field of taxation of robotics and artificial intelligence, and he frequently writes and speaks on the topic.

Prior to entering private practice, Rob was a senior litigation counsel in the US Department of Justice - Tax Division, where he was lead trial counsel for the IRS in some of the largest and most complex civil tax cases in the nation. In that position, Rob worked closely with the IRS's Large Business & International (LB&I) Division and top management of the Tax Division to shape litigation strategy on high-priority tax enforcement issues. These cases involved cross-border transactions, Section 482 disputes, Section 199 deductions, research credits and foreign tax credits, corporate reorganizations and acquisitions, and IP valuations, with claimed tax benefits ranging from $10 million to more than $1 billion.

Rob also provides advice to established and start-up companies on innovative tax incentives, such as the research tax credit. He is a leader in the emerging field of taxation of robotics and artificial intelligence, and he frequently writes and speaks on the topic.

Previously, Rob served as a law clerk to the Honorable M. Blane Michael, Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Professional experience

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JD, Columbia Law School, Senior Editor, Columbia Law Review; James Kent Scholar; Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, 1997
BA, magna cum laude, Harvard College, 1994

In addition to California and the District of Columbia, Rob is also admitted to practice in front of the following courts:

  • Supreme Court of the United States 
  • US Tax Court 
  • US Court of Federal Claims
  • US District Court, District of Columbia 
  • US District Court, Central District of California 
  • US District Court, Eastern District of California 
  • US District Court, Northern District of California 
  • US District Court, Southern District of California 
  • US Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit 
  • US Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit
  • US Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
  • US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit 
  • US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia
  • California State Bar
  • District of Columbia Bar
  • Won refund action as lead trial counsel on behalf of refund principal in contract manufacturing arrangement in IRS dispute concerning the domestic production activities deduction under Section 199. Meredith Corp. v. United States (S.D. Iowa).
  • Lead trial and appellate counsel in a Tax Court case involving an IRS challenge to several million dollars of tax credits for the production of landfill gas as a nonconventional fuel under Section 45K. Green Gas Delaware Statutory Trust, et al. v. Comm'r (U.S. Tax Ct. & D.C. Cir.).
  • Lead trial counsel in refund action on behalf of energy company in IRS dispute concerning the income tax effects of alcohol and biodiesel mixture credits. Delek USA Holdings, Inc. v. United States (M.D. Tenn.)
  • Represented multinational financial services corporation in IRS transfer pricing examination involving financial derivatives.
  • Won 100% IRS concession for pharmaceutical company in IRS Appeals regarding whether rebates from US drug manufacturers constitute income effectively connected with the United States for tax purposes.
  • Won 100% IRS concession for energy company in IRS Appeals regarding refund claims for alternative fuel excise tax credits.
  • Represented corporate and high net worth taxpayers in IRS audits involving transfer pricing, international tax, the research tax credit, the Section 199 deduction, alternative fuel tax credits and economic substance issues.
  • Represented taxpayers in state tax controversies involving partnership, captive insurance, and unitary taxation issues.
  • Legal 500 US, recommended lawyer, Tax: US Taxes, Contentious, The Legal 500, 2016, 2018, 2020
  • Outstanding Attorney, Department of Justice, Tax Division, 2008 – 2010
  • Recipient, John Marshall Award, the highest award for trial of litigation given by the Department of Justice, 2009
  • Recipient, Mitchell Rogovin Award for providing outstanding support to the Office of Chief Counsel by the IRS, 2009
  • Co-author, "Who Is Interested in My Request for Interest?Tax Executive, July 9, 2021
  • Author, "Machine Versus the Tax Man: AI Investor and the Research Tax Credit," Bloomberg Tax, October 27, 2020
  • Co-author, "INSIGHT: Resolving federal tax disputes in bankruptcy," Bloomberg Tax, June 2020
  • Co-author, "INSIGHT: Promise and perils of tentative refunds—tax controversy aspects of NOL carrybacks under CARES Act," Bloomberg Law, April 2020
  • "A Taxing Dilemma: Robot Taxes and the Challenges of Effective Taxation of AI, Automation and Robotics in the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Ohio State Technology Law Journal, 2020
  • Author, "Refund Claims: Don't Leave Money On The Table," Tax Executive Magazine, March 12, 2018
  • Author, "International Tax Cooperation or Global Tax Chaos: Views from the Pacific Rim Tax Conference," MNE Tax, March 12, 2018.
  • Author, "Don't tax the robots," San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2018
  • Author, "The Challenges of Administering a Robot Tax," Law360, September 25, 2017
  • Co-author, "Changes to IRS Appeals May Create Problems for Taxpayers," Law360, October 26, 2016
  • Co-author, "New Tax Litigation Troubles For Liquidating Trustees," Law360, May 5, 2016
  • Author, "Expert Contributor, Topic 138, Corporate Tax Shelters: Reportable Transactions, Checkpoint Catalyst, October 1, 2015

Rob is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars on international tax and federal tax controversy issues, and is often quoted in the press on those subjects.

  • "IRS 2.0: Building a New Taxpayer Experience Strategy under the Taxpayer First Act," ABA Tax Section Fall Meeting, October 2, 2020 
  • "Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in Audit Selection and Litigation.," ABA Tax Section Fall Meeting, October 1, 2020 
  • "Establishing and Preserving Privilege Protection-A Practical Guide for Tax Personnel," TEI Houston, Houston, Texas, February 27, 2020 
  • "Life Cycle of IRS Controversy from Cradle to Grave," TEI Houston, Houston, Texas, February 27, 2020
  • "Disclosures and other pre-audit tools," TEI Houston, Houston, Texas, February 25, 2020
  • "The Ethical Challenges Posed by the Use of Predictive Case Analytics," ABA Tax Section Midyear Meeting, Boca Raton, Florida, February 1, 2020
  • "Federal Tax Controversy – Campagins and Data Analytics," 35th Annual Tax Executives Institute-San Jose University High Tech Tax Institute, Palo Alto, California, November 5, 2019
  • "Research and Experimentation Credits – News and Nuance," Tax Executives Institution 74th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, October 28, 2019
  • "Taxing Robots," Wirtschafts Universitat Wein/Universite de Geneve Taxation and Artificial Intelligence Workshop, Geneva, Switzerland, October 10, 2019
  • "From the NOPA to Appeals," Tax Executives Institute Houston, Houston, Texas, August 7, 2019
  • "Form 5471 – Penalties," Tax Executives Institute Santa Clara, Burlingame, California, June 28, 2019
  • "Robot Tax," 72nd Annual NYU Conference on Labor: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation: Impact on Work and Workers, New York, New York, June 13, 2019
  • "Research and Experimentation Credits – Tools, Challenges & Exam Issues," Tax Executives Institute Audits & Appeals Seminar, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 21, 2019
  • "The Challenges of Social Media for Tax Practitioners," American Bar Association Tax Sections May Meeting, Washington, DC, May 11, 2019
  • "How Artificial Intelligence and Other Technology Will Shape the Future of Tax Law," DC Bar Section on Taxation, Washington, DC, April 24, 2019
  • "Ethical Issues with Disclosure: Challenging Regulations and Penalties," Tax Executives Institute Houston Chapter Ethics Session, Houston, Texas, April 14, 2019
  • "Research and Experimentation Incentives and Digital Technology Issues – What Qualifies?" Tax Executives Institute 69th Midyear Meeting, Washington, DC, April 3, 2019
  • "Taxing Robots," Ohio State University's Mortiz College of Law Symposium on Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Tax Law and Policy, Columbus, Ohio, March 22, 2019
  • "An Update from the Trenches: The Latest Battlegrounds in IRS Administrative and Judicial Enforcement Activities," Tax Executives Institute St. Louis Chapter Meeting, St. Louis, Missouri, March 21, 2019
  • "A Shrinking World – Transparency and the Exchange of Information Among Tax Authorities," Tax Executives Institute Houston, Houston, Texas, February 21, 2019
  • "Navigating Cross-Border Discovery and the GDPR," American Bar Association Tax Section Midyear Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 18, 2019
  • "Fundamentals of Tax Litigation: Choice of Forum and Appealing Decisions," ABA Tax Section May Meeting, Washington, DC, May 12, 2018
  • "Research & Experimentation Issues," TEI Audits & Appeals Seminar, New Orleans, LA, April 30, 2018
  • "Should Robots Pay Taxes? Tax Policy in the Age of Automation," We Robot 2018 7th Annual Conference on Robotics, Law & Policy, Palo Alto, CA, April 13, 2018
  • "Research Credit Directive: What It Says, What It Means to You," Tax Executives Institute 68th Midyear Conference, March 26, 2018
  • "Legislative and Administrative Developments as part of the Reports of Subcommittees on Important Developments for Civil & Criminal Tax Penalties Committee," ABA Section of Taxation 2018 Midyear Meeting, San Diego, CA, February 10, 2018
  • "Navigating IRS Challenges to Micro Captive Insurers," ABA Section of Taxation 2018 Midyear Meeting, San Diego, CA, February 9, 2018
  • "Taxing R2-D2: How Should We Think About the Taxation of Robots and AI," ABA Section of Taxation 2018 Midyear Meeting, San Diego, CA, February 9, 2018
  • "Regulations - Relevance of Replace 2 to Issue 1, GAO and Congressional Concerns," TEI-SJSU High Tech Tax Institute, Palo Alto, CA, November 14, 2017
  • "IP Strategy: Risks and Rewards Across the Intellectual Property Life Cycle," Duff & Phelps IP Value Summit, Half Moon Bay, CA, October 17, 2017
  • "The Great Transfer Pricing Debate," 2017 National Association for Business Economics, July 18, 2017
  • "IRS Update," Tax Executive Institute Midyear Conference, Washington, DC, March 22, 2017
  • "Update on Taxation of Outbound Transfers of Foreign Goodwill and Going Concern Value," Lorman Education Services Webinar, February 23, 2017
  • "IDRs, Summonses, Subpoenas - IRS Fact Finding Tools," Tax Executives Institute, October 19, 2016
  • "Section 367(d) and Intangible Transfers: Past to Future," 2016 Transfer Pricing Symposium, July 20, 2016
  • "Navigating the Alternative Minimum Tax For Individual and Corporate Taxpayers," Lorman Education Services, May 23, 2016
  • "Managing and Resolving R&D and Section 199 Issues," Tax Executives Institute, May 18, 2016
  • "IP Tax Planning: Is the Party Over?" Tax Executives Institute, February 26, 2016
  • "Hot Topics in IP - International Focus: Intellectual Property in the Tax World," IP Value Summit, December 2, 2015
  • "Cloud Activities and Issues Under Section 41 and 199," TEI-SJSU High Tech Institute, November 9, 2015
  • "Research Credit & Section 199 Controversies," Tax Executives Institute, September 29, 2015
  • "Being Proactive During the Audit," Tax Executives Institute, September 24, 2015
  • "Managing and Resolving Section 199 Issues," Tax Executives Institute, May 20, 2015
  • 2015 Tax Law Conference, Federal Bar Association, March 6, 2015
  • Co-Chair, Legislative and Administrative Developments Subcommittee, American Bar Association Tax Section, Civil and Criminal Penalties
  • Vice-Chair, Tax Policy & Simplification Committee, American Bar Association Tax Section
  • Fellow,  American College of Tax Counsel