are defined as identifiable non-monetary assets
that cannot be seen, touched or physically measured, which are created through time and/or effort and that are identifiable as a separate asset. There are two primary forms of intangibles - legal intangibles (such as trade secrets
(e.g., customer lists), copyrights
, and goodwill
) and competitive intangibles (such as knowledge activities (know-how
), collaboration activities, leverage activities, and structural activities). Legal intangibles generate legal property rights defensible in a court of law. Competitive intangibles, whilst legally non-ownable, directly impact effectiveness, productivity, wastage, and opportunity costs within an organization - and therefore costs, revenues, customer service, satisfaction, market value, and share price. Human capital
is the primary source of competitive intangibles for organizations today. Competitive intangibles are the source from which competitive advantage
flows, or is destroyed. The area of finance that deals with intangible assets is known as Intangible Asset Finance
The Uniform Commercial Code (Section 9-102(a)(42)) defines "general intangibles" as
- "any personal property...other than accounts, chattel paper, commercial tort claims, deposit accounts, documents, goods, instruments, investment property, letter of credit rights, letters of credit, money, and oil, gas, or other minerals before extraction. The term includes payment intangibles and software."
Research & Development
Millions are spent each year by corporations to research and develop new intangible assets. To protect their research and development (R&D) efforts, corporations generally rely on intellectual property law.
The International Accounting Standards Board
(IASB) offers some guidance (IAS 38) as to how intangible assets should be accounted for in financial statements
. In general, legal intangibles that are developed internally are not recognized and legal intangibles that are purchased from third-parties are recognized.
Intangible assets are typically expensed according to their respective life expectancy. Intangible assets have either an identifiable or indefinite useful life. Intangible assets with identifiable useful lives are amortized
on a straight-line basis over their economic or legal life, whichever is shorter. Examples of intangible assets with identifiable useful lives include copyrights and patents. Intangible assets with indefinite useful lives are reassessed each year for impairment. If an impairment has occurred, then a loss must be recognized. An impairment loss
is determined by subtracting the asset's fair value from the asset's book/carrying value. This impairment loss may only be reversed under certain circumstances. Trademarks and goodwill are examples of intangible assets with indefinite useful lives.
For personal income tax purposes, some costs with respect to intangible assets must be capitalized rather than treated as deductible expenses. Treasury regulations generally require capitalization of costs associated with acquiring, creating, or enhancing intangible assets. For example, an amount paid to obtain a trademark must be capitalized. Certain amounts paid to facilitate these transactions must also be capitalized. Some types of intangible assets are categorized based on whether the asset is acquired from another party or created by the taxpayer. The regulations contain many provisions intended to make it easier to determine when capitalization is required.