A holiday gift from the government…

One of the pieces of the 451-page EESA legislation that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is the extension of tax credits for R&D that had expired at the end of 2007. Indeed, even the Wikepedia description of the legislation makes no note of the credits. But companies — or at least their accountants and tax counsel — are clearly aware of the tax benefit, judging by a sample of Qs we’ve been reading over the past few days. A quick skim shows that it’s mostly tech and pharmaceutical companies that seem to be benefiting. No doubt this was one of the artificial sweeteners that prompted the legislation to grow from 3 pages to 451.

Some companies — Google (GOOG) is just one that comes to mind here — are playing coy and saying they have no idea how much this will impact them because the legislation, which was signed on Oct. 3, happened after the close of the quarter. Here’s how Google put it in its 10Q filed on Friday:

On October 3, 2008, the United States enacted a law, the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008,” which contains the “Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008”. Under this act, the federal research and development credit was retroactively extended for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2007 and before January 1, 2010. The effects of these changes in the tax law will be determined and recognized in the fourth quarter, which is the quarter in which the laws were enacted.

But other companies have been able to predict the likely impact, including DRS Technnologies (DRS), which estimated a $1.6 million benefit, Lam Research (LRCX), which estimated a $14 million to $18 million benefit, Verisign (VRSN), which estimated a benefit of $4.5 million to $6 million.

We’ll continue to keep an eye out for these benefits. Given the retroactive nature of the credit, we’re guessing that there’s some heavy duty number-crunching going on as we type.