Intangible asset

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Assets are defined as physical things that have a calculable value such as facilities and equipment. Assets are anything for which a monetary value can be fixed, devalued, or used in financial transactions. Assets may be monetary with fixed values in currency or non-monetary with an historical value. Non-monetary assets with historical value would include equipment for transportation of people and goods (examples are trucks and cars, machinery used in moving goods—e.g. forklifts), machinery used in producing or maintaining goods (e.g. hand tools, fabrication machinery, presses, blast furnaces, packaging machinery and other conveyor line equipment, diagnostic equipment), and working or sales space equipment (such as office and lounge area furniture, display cases, lighting fixtures, decorative fixtures, and hardware). Virtually any technological device used in a business.[1][2][3]

Intangible assets also have value but are technically not physical things, have no independent market or liquidation value and are not carried on a balance sheet. The GASB Statement No. 51 endorses the following three required characteristics:

  • Lack of physical substance (i.e. can not be touched) except when an intangible is integrated in a tangible object (e.g. a CD disc that holds software or customer lists);
  • It does not have financial attributes or properties. In other words, while it does have value it has no monetary form (e.g. cash or securities) and does not constitute a claim or right to assets that have monetary form, such as receivables or a prepayment for goods or service;
  • The business use or useful life of the intangible asset extends beyond a single financial reporting period.

Examples of intangible assets are, software, trademarks, patents, copyrights, motion picture films, licences, leases, specific development costs, capitalised development cost, customer lists, mortgage servicing rights, brand recognition, customer goodwill and loyalty, reputation, franchise rights, equities, mineral rights, import quotas, fishing and mining rights, marketing rights, purchase options, customer supplier relationships, franchises, securities, and contracts, the staff and their skills, experience, knowledge and creativity. [4][5][3]

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An asset constitutes a resources that a business entity or enterprise controls either through acquisition (e.g. purchased asset) or creation (e.g. produced for sale or use in the company). An asset must also endow future benefits (e.g. sales). To accomplish this the following is essential:

  • An asset must be identifiable
  • An asset must be controlled by person or enterprise that claims it and has the ability to acquire benefits from the asset
  • An asset must endow future benefits (e.g. revenues, cost reduction, enhanced sales).


In the US, intangible assets, according to US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, are amortized to expense over 5 to 40 years with the exception of goodwill.

IAS 38

IAS 38, International Accounting Standards 38, is the international definition of intangible asset. The IAS 38 was drafted and exposed in September 1998 and became effective on July 1, 1999. [5]

A technical summary of the IAS 38[7] makes these stipulations

  • An intangible asset must be separate or separable from the business or organization claiming it;
  • It must be possible to sell, transfer, license, lease or rent, or exchange the asset;
  • It is a result, or arises from legal rights such as contractual rights which may or may not be transferable or removed from the entity and other rights and obligations.[8]
  • Benefits of a economic nature will accrue in future—there must be some financial or business benefit to the owner of the intangible asset such that at the time of evaluation it retains value at that time;
  • It must be possible to fix the value or cost of the intangible asset in a reliable manner


Valuing an intangible asset

The cost of a separately acquired intangible asset is defined by:

  • The purchase price of an intangible assets after deducting trade discounts and rebates—including import duties and non-refundable purchase taxes,
  • The costs that are directly attributable to preparing an intangible asset for its intended use.



  1. [1] Financial Programming and Budget Glossary, EC International Public Sector Accounting Standards
  2. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 159 Financial Accounting Standards Board (2007). Financial Accounting Series. page 2
  3. 3.0 3.1 Financial Statements Part II The Wharton School of the University of Penssylvania
  4. [2] US Government Accounting Standards Board (July 2007) GASB Issues Accounting and Financial Reporting Guidance for Intangible Assets
  5. 5.0 5.1 IAS 38 Intangible Assets Deloitte, Touche Tohmatsu
  6. IAS 38 Intangible Assets Deloitte; Financial Programming and Budget Glossary EC International Public Sector Accounting Standards
  7. prepared by the IASC Foundation staff and has not been approved by the IASB.
  8. As an example, a franchise license may entitle the owner of the license to a brand name and other rights which essentially defines the franchise and without which the franchise would be a different entity. A wholesaler of, say machinery parts, may have exclusive rights to distribution from a manufacturer but the wholesaler does not sell that manufacture's brand exclusively and may transfer or sale or simply terminate the exclusive wholesaler's rights to distribute that brand which would not alter the nature of the machinery parts business. The rights to a brand name in both cases are an intangible asset but the rights to the intangible asset is a essential part of the franchise license arising from the franchise license whereas this is not case of the machinery parts distributor.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Technical Summary of IAS 38 extract composed by IASC Foundation Staff