Intangible assets are non monetary assets which lack physical substance, this is in contrast to tangible assets such as equipment, which do have a physical presence.
Not all intangibles are intangible assets. Some intangible items such as goodwill, brands, logos, and research expenditure are generated or developed internally by a business, and are not regarded as intangible assets. Expenditure on these items is charged as an expense in the income statement as it is incurred, and does not become an an intangible asset on the balance sheet of the business.
Accounting for Intangible Assets
Intangible assets are normally purchased by the business, but there are examples of internally developed intangibles such as development costs, which can be capitalized providing there is a reasonable expectation of future revenue.
The accounting treatment for intangible assets differs depending on whether the asset has a limited (finite) useful life or an indefinite life.
Intangible Assets with a Limited Life
The cost of intangible assets with a finite life is amortized (written off) over the shorter of its legal life or useful life.
A patent granted to a business for an invention or purchased from a third party is an example of an intangible asset with a finite life. In most countries the life of a patent is 20 years.
Patent Amortization Example
For example, a patent is purchased for 40,000 and has a 10 year useful life remaining. The bookkeeping journal to record the purchase of the intangible asset would be as follows:
The amortization expense is given by the formula above and is calculated as follows:
Amortization expense = Cost / Useful life Amortization expense = 40,000 / 10 = 4,000
The amortization is recorded with the following bookkeeping journal entry.
Intangible Assets with an Indefinite Life
An intangible asset with an indefinite life is not amortised, but is tested for impairment and written down to its recoverable amount.
A trade mark is a distinctive logo, word, symbol, signature or phrase usually seen on a product, packaging, or advertisements showing that there is a trade connection between the product and a business. The purpose of the trade mark is to legally distinguish the products of one business from another. A trade mark is renewable every 10 years and unless the business has decided it has a fixed useful life, it can be considered to have an indefinite life.
Registering a trade mark gives the business the exclusive right to use it, and another business using the same or similar trade mark is said to have infringed the trademark and could be sued for damages. The symbol indicating a registered trademark is the letter “R” surrounded by a circle ®.
As they do not expire, a trademark is an example of an intangible asset with an indefinite life. For example, if a business has a trademark which is carried in the balance sheet at 50,000, and an impairment review shows that the recoverable amount is only 40,000, then the impairment calculation as follows.
Impairment loss = Carrying value - Recoverable amount Impairment loss = 50,000 - 40,000 = 10,000
The bookkeeping journal to reflect this impairment is as follows:
|Loss on impairment||10,000|
|Accumulated impairment loss||10,000|
In the US, a service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.
The only difference between a service mark and a trade mark, is that a service mark identifies and distinguishes the supplier of a service and a trade mark identifies and distinguishes the supplier of goods. In some countries the distinct between service and goods is not made and the marks are classified as trade marks.
For example a parcel delivery service does not offer physical goods for sale but may have a service mark identifying and distinguishing its service from others on its promotional material, staff uniforms or delivery vehicles.
Goodwill is the amount by which the price paid for a business exceeds the fair value of the identifiable net assets acquired. Identifiable assets includes tangible as well as intangible assets such as trade marks and customer lists.
Fair value often differs from book value (the amounts shown in the accounting records), and assets and liabilities need to be revalued at the acquisition date as shown in the table below.
If in the above example the business was purchased for say 37,000, then the goodwill would be calculated as follows:
Goodwill = Purchase price - Fair value of net assets = 37,000 - 23,000 = 14,000
List of Typical Intangibles
There are numerous examples of intangibles including the following items:
- Domain names
- Franchise agreements
- Technical documentation
- Computer software
- Chemical formulas
- Purchase goodwill
- Development costs
- Customers lists
- Licensing agreements
- Broadcast rights
- Usage rights
- Leasehold improvements (asset belongs to landlord)
- Government licenses
- Mailing lists
- Non-compete covenants
About the Author
Chartered accountant Michael Brown is the founder and CEO of Plan Projections. He has worked as an accountant and consultant for more than 25 years and has built financial models for all types of industries. He has been the CFO or controller of both small and medium sized companies and has run small businesses of his own. He has been a manager and an auditor with Deloitte, a big 4 accountancy firm, and holds a BSc from Loughborough University.