To be a qualifying R&D project the project must seek to achieve an advance in the overall knowledge or capability (not a company’s own state of knowledge or capability) in a field of science or technology. An advance in science or technology may result in physical adaptations to the product e.g. a new or more efficient product, or improvements to the process e.g. cost improvements. A project is not considered an advance simply because science or technology has been used in its creation. Even if the advance which the project sought to achieve is not realised R&D can still be deemed to take place.
The activities involved must achieve the advance through the resolution of scientific or technological uncertainty. An uncertainty is deemed to exist when knowledge of something is not readily available or deductible by a competent professional working in that field.
Any activity which directly contributes to achieving the advance and indirect activities related to the project will qualify as R&D.
Therefore, any project which makes an appreciable improvement to an existing process, material, device, product or service or which duplicates the effects of an existing process, material, device, product or service through an advance in science or technology in a new or appreciably improved way would constitute R&D.
For example, a manufacturing company manufactures products using machinery. To increase efficiency, the company are looking at the process by which the goods are manufactured. If the company simply bought a new more modern piece of machinery to replace the existing machinery then this would not qualify as R&D as a project is not R&D just because technology has been used in its creation. However, if the company developed changes to the way the product is manufactured so that they are now made in an appreciably improved way which would result in increased efficiency then this could qualify as R&D. There does not necessarily need to be a change to the actual product being released to the market.
On submission of a claim HM Revenue & Customs will decide whether a project meets the definition of R&D. There are specialist HM Revenue & Customs R&D units who can assist with a claim and give guidance as to whether a project would qualify for the relief.