Do Accounting Systems and Language Hamper Creative Business Strategies Involving Intangible Assets and IP?

Michael D. Moberly   August 23, 2010

For management teams, boards, entreprenuers, and others operating in knowledge intensive (IP, intangible asset, intellectual capital) sectors, it’s not particularly noteworthy to point out there are significant differences between the accounting and intellectual property – intangible asset communities. 

Those differences are largely conceptual.  They evolve around accounting language and systems that tend to focus on production factors and very tangible assets.  The rigidity of accounting systems and language, and the growing universality of accounting standards does not allow – leave much room for reflection on (creative, alternative) business strategies that are lead – influenced by intangible assets and/or intellectual property.

Accounting is largely a mathematical language that allows companies to communicate about their respective business performance in a manner that is essentially free from cultural connotations, i.e., global universality of accounting standards.  Accounting language follows a code of officially sanctioned standards that are recognized by both the state as well as the international (accounting) community.  Without such language, admittedly, business perceptions and understandings could not be maintained.

Accounting language and systems are governed by U.S. (GAAP) and international (IFRS) standards wherein factors of production and performance are dominant and subsequently under-play, if not utterly ignore, the construction (evolution) and value of internally developed proprietary knowledge, i.e., IP and other intangibles that routinely contribute to the formulation and execution of business strategies.

Respectfully, today’s accounting language and systems do not do much either for communicating-advancing the economic fact that we’re literally in the midst of a knowledge, some say, intangible asset- based economy in which increasing percentages of company value, sources of revenue, sustainability, and foundations for future wealth creation lie in – directly evolve from intangible assets and IP. 

Rather, current accounting language and systems, quite literally, frame the context in which most  businesses function and also set the parameters for how and under what circumstances IP and intangibles can actually be applied.

How IP and intangibles are treated (by accountants) depends primarily on whether the assets were developed internally or acquired externally.  For example, internally generated/developed IP is immediately expensed and appears as a loss, rather than as revenue.  Thus internal R&D initiatives and investments in intellectual property-intangible assets constitute (are characterized as) costs to a company rather than drivers of value, revenue, and future wealth creation, etc.  This practice (accounting standard) makes it all-the-more challenging to trace (unravel) how such assets as IP-based R&D, design, and brand innovation, etc., are generated.

Thus, current accounting language and systems, essentially force businesses to speak about (address their) business performance in a standardized and ritualized manner with virtually no opportunity for inserting creative (alternative) language or expressions.

And, therein lies the basis for many of the current challenges between accountants and advocates of full and creative utilization of intangibles and IP; the inability to respectfully find common ground to converge both language and systems to improve opportunities for consistently putting those assets in play, along with monetization and commercialization.

(This post was adapted by Mr. Moberly from the work of Professor Roya Ghafele and her article titled ‘Accounting for IP?’ recently published in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice.)

The ‘Business IP and Intangible Asset Blog’ is researched and written by Mr. Moberly to provide insights and additional views for company management teams, boards, and employees to aid in identifying, assessing, valuing, protecting, and profiting from their intangible assets.  I welcome and respect your comments and perspectives at [email protected].



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