Intangible Assets

Definition: Intangible assets are non-physical assets that have economic value to a business due to the rights, information, or competitive advantages they provide. Unlike tangible assets, such as machinery or buildings, intangible assets lack a physical presence but still significantly influence a company's operation, reputation, and long-term viability.

Distinguishing Characteristics: Intangible assets typically share some or all of the following characteristics:

  1. They are identifiable.
  2. They have a finite useful life, except in the case of certain assets like goodwill.
  3. They provide future economic benefits.
  4. They lack physical substance.

Types of Intangible Assets:

  1. Goodwill: This represents the excess of the purchase price of a business over its fair market value. It's often attributed to factors like company reputation, customer loyalty, or brand strength.
  2. Trademarks: Symbols, names, or slogans used to identify goods or services. A recognizable trademark can significantly influence consumers' purchase decisions.
  3. Patents: Exclusive rights granted for an invention, allowing the patent holder to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention for a certain period.
  4. Copyrights: Legal rights that protect original works of authorship, such as books, songs, and movies.
  5. Licenses: Allow a party to do something they wouldn't otherwise have the right to do, often involving intellectual property.
  6. Franchises: A form of license where the franchisee gets access to a business's proprietary knowledge, processes, and trademarks to sell a product or provide a service under the business's name.
  7. Trade secrets: Information that holds value for a company because it's not widely known, such as formulas, practices, or processes.

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Valuation and Amortization:Valuing intangible assets can be more complex than tangible assets due to their non-physical nature. Their value might be derived from the original cost, market comparison, or projected income. Once the value is determined, most intangible assets (except those with an indefinite life like certain trademarks or goodwill) are amortized over their useful life. This process spreads out the cost of the asset over multiple reporting periods, similar to the depreciation of tangible assets.


Imagine Company A acquires Company B for $1.5 million. Company B's tangible assets are valued at $1 million, and its recognizable intangible assets, like patents, are valued at $200,000. This leaves $300,000 unaccounted for, which can be attributed to goodwill, perhaps due to Company B's strong brand reputation or superior customer relationships.

Furthermore, suppose Company B has a patent among its intangible assets, which was originally acquired for $50,000 and has a useful life of 10 years. This patent will be amortized at $5,000 per year for ten years ($50,000 ÷ 10 years).

Key Takeaways:

  • Intangible assets, though lacking physical presence, hold significant economic value for businesses.
  • They can include rights, competitive advantages, and other non-tangible benefits.
  • Proper valuation and accounting for these assets are crucial, as they can impact financial statements, company valuation, and strategic decisions.

Understanding intangible assets and their contribution to a company's value proposition is crucial for investors, stakeholders, and management. In today's knowledge-driven economy, these assets often represent a substantial portion of a company's worth, underpinning its potential for growth, innovation, and long-term success.

Read our deep dive on intangible assets here.

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