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.

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 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, Ninth Circuit 
  • US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia
  • California State Bar
  • District of Columbia Bar
  • 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 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).
  • Represented multinational financial services corporation in IRS transfer pricing examination involving financial derivatives.
  • Represented pharmaceutical company in IRS Appeals regarding whether rebates from US drug manufacturers constitute income effectively connected with the United States for tax purposes.
  • Represented energy company in IRS Appeals regarding refund claims for alternative fuel excise tax credits.
  • Advised corporate and high net worth taxpayers on various tax issues including transfer pricing, international tax, the research tax credit, the Section 199 deduction, alternative fuel tax credits, and economic substance issues.
  • Legal 500 US, recommended lawyer, Tax: US Taxes, Contentious, The Legal 500, 2016, 2018 
  • 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, "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.

  • "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