What Are Intangible Assets? Understanding Their Business Value and Examples

What Are Intangible Assets? Understanding Their Business Value and Examples

Have you ever wondered why companies like Apple, Google, and Coca-Cola are so successful? It’s not just about their physical assets. The real key is intangible assets. These include things like brand equity, customer loyalty, and competitive advantage.

Things like patents and trademarks, as well as goodwill and trade secrets, are crucial. They help define a company’s worth and its potential for innovation. But these key parts of a business often get overlooked. So, the big question is, How can companies really see, understand, and make the most of their intangible assets? This can help them grow sustainably and stand out from the competition.

Key Takeaways

  • Intangible assets are non-physical resources that provide long-term value and competitive advantages to businesses.
  • Examples include brands, intellectual property (patents, trademarks), goodwill, customer relationships, and trade secrets.
  • Valuing intangible assets involves the market, income, and cost approaches, according to the AICPA.
  • Companies must recognize and nurture intangible assets to drive innovation, customer loyalty, and overall business success.
  • Proper accounting and reporting of intangible assets is crucial for financial transparency and stakeholder trust.

Understanding Intangible Assets

Intangible assets are non-physical resources that boost a business over time. They add to a company’s long-term success and its intangible wealth.

What are intangible assets?

Intangible assets are non-physical assets that lack physical substance but provide future economic benefits to the company that owns them.

Intangible assets don’t have a physical form, unlike tangible assets you can touch. They’re like non-physical properties, bringing economic benefits and value to a business. Because they’re abstract, it’s hard to put a solid number on their worth.

Importance of Intangible Assets

Although you can’t see them, intangible assets are crucial for a company’s success. They can boost profits, make you stand out in the market, and increase your worth over time. Think of a strong brand or a unique technology – they can really push a company forward. Plus, these assets last a long time, helping a business stay successful.

Difference Between Tangible and Intangible Assets

The big difference is one you can touch and the other you can’t. Tangible assets are things like machines and buildings that are visible and physical. Intangible assets, however, are not physical but are still valuable.

Tangible assets are easier to put a clear value on. But, intangible assets pose more of a challenge. This is crucial to understand for any company wanting a strong position in the marketplace today.

Tangible AssetsIntangible Assets
Physical formNo physical form
Easier to value and account forChallenging to value and measure
Examples: Machinery, buildings, inventoryExamples: Brands, patents, copyrights

Types of Intangible Assets

Intangible assets are very important to a company’s success. They include things like the company’s brand or customer relationships. Even though we can’t touch or see these assets, they are key for a business to stand out. They help companies grow and keep customers coming back.


Brands are very important intangible assets. They are made of things like logos, names, and what makes a business unique. Having a strong brand helps a company keep its customers. It also lets them charge more for what they sell. A good brand is a big part of a company’s value and success.


Goodwill is what’s paid extra when one company buys another. It includes the bought company’s reputation and future potential. Goodwill is hard to measure exactly, but it’s important for a company’s value. It shows the worth of things like the trust of its customers.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is a group of legally protected intangible assets. This includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, and secrets. Having these rights helps businesses profit from their ideas. They also help companies be the best in their industry. Fields like tech, medicine, and entertainment depend a lot on IP.

Identifiable Intangible AssetsUnidentifiable Intangible Assets
  • Intellectual property
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Non-monetary government grants
  • Reputation
  • Client relationships
  • Goodwill
  • Brand recognition

These non-physical resources are crucial for a company’s standing in the market. Skills, innovation, and relationships with customers are all part of this. Even though they are hard to count, they greatly impact a business’s value and success.

Valuing Intangible Assets

Brands, goodwill, and intellectual property are key to today’s businesses. But, valuing them is tricky because they’re so unique. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) lists three main ways to value such assets:

Market Approach

This method looks at what similar intangible assets have sold for. It then adjusts for any differences. The idea is to find a fair value based on market prices.

Income Approach

This approach focuses on assets that bring in money or could do so. It finds an asset’s fair value by looking at the future benefits it could provide. Basically, it’s about what those assets can earn over time.

Cost Approach

The cost method is all about what it would cost to make a new asset. It doesn’t factor in future profits, making it less favored. It looks at the price tag of starting from scratch.

Big names like Coca-Cola often mix these techniques to nail the worth of their intangible assets. As firms have more and more of their value tied to things like ideas and brands, the right way to figure out their value is crucial.

Valuation ApproachDescription
Market ApproachRelies on comparable market transactions for similar assets
Income ApproachEstimates present value of future economic benefits
Cost ApproachDetermines the cost to recreate or replace the asset

Deciding the value of these intangible things takes a lot of know-how and thinking. Experts must be really careful in choosing how to evaluate them. They have to make sure the method fits the asset they’re valuing.

Accounting for Intangible Assets

Intangible assets aren’t something you can touch. But, they do add a lot of value to companies. There are rules for how companies must handle these assets in their books.

Recording Intangible Assets

Companies add intangible assets to their financial records if they buy them or merge with another company. These assets must have a clear value and last for many years legally. Things a company creates on its own, like new software, hardly ever go on the balance sheet.

Intangible assets acquired by a company will appear on the balance sheet based on the purchase price and will be amortized over time.

Amortization and Impairment

Assets with a clear end date, such as copyrights or software licenses, are spread out in their cost over time. This is the amortization process. It should closely match how the asset’s worth decreases as it’s used.

But, some assets never wear out, like goodwill. With these, companies check every year if they are still worth what the books say. If not, they adjust the value down.

Some intangible assets can be revalued from time to time. This is called the revaluation model. It keeps the asset’s book value closer to what it might sell for now. But, it needs regular check-ups.

Asset TypeAmortizationImpairment Testing
Definite LifeAmortized over useful lifeTested if indicators of impairment exist
Indefinite LifeNo amortizationAnnually tested for impairment

The main goal of handling intangible assets in accounting is clear. It’s about showing their real value up to the current point. This helps give a true picture of a company’s financial health.

Examples of Intangible Assets

Intangible assets are key for a company’s brand recognition and worth over time. Let’s check out some examples from top businesses:


Microsoft relies on its intangible assets for success. It has technologies from key buyouts, top products like Microsoft Office, and meaningful customer ties. These help extend Microsoft’s market life, fueling future investments in research.


The Coca-Cola brand is top-tier among intangible assets. Its global fame has grown steadily through strategic marketing over decades. This shows the big value intangible assets can have.

Apple Inc.

Apple’s intangible assets are focused on unique tech, sleek product designs, and its strong brand. These have propelled Apple’s success, allowing it to charge higher and stand out. It highlights how a mix of innovation and brand strength is key for lasting success.

Assets like those at Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Apple are hard to measure but are critical for business growth. They help companies keep ahead and lead in a knowledge-based economy.

CompanyKey Intangible AssetsValue Contribution
MicrosoftAcquired technology, product brands, customer relationshipsDriving innovation, customer loyalty, and long-term growth
Coca-ColaBrand recognition, global marketing strategiesBuilding a powerful brand identity and customer loyalty
Apple Inc.Proprietary technology, product designs, brand recognitionEnabling premium pricing, competitive advantage, and market dominance


What are intangible assets? They’re resources without a physical form that benefit businesses long term. Examples include brands, patents, and goodwill. Figuring out their exact value can be tricky, but there are ways to estimate it.

Focusing on intangible assets is key to boost innovation and customer loyalty, leading to business success. Look at brands like Nike. They’ve shown the power of strong branding and patents. These assets give them a big edge in the market.

In today’s knowledge-focused world, knowing what are intangible assets and using them well can really set a company apart. They help develop brand value and protect valuable ideas. Managing these hidden assets is essential for growing and making money over time.


What is the difference between tangible and intangible assets?

Tangible assets are physical, like buildings and equipment. Intangible assets, however, have no physical form. They offer value through things like brands, patents, and goodwill.

How do businesses value intangible assets?

Businesses use three main ways to value such assets. These are the market approach, the income approach, and the cost approach. The market approach looks at similar assets, the income approach is based on future cash flows, and the cost approach focuses on what it would cost to replace the asset.

How are intangible assets recorded on the balance sheet?

Intangible assets go on the balance sheet if they are bought or acquired. If a company creates these assets itself, they don’t get listed. There are some exceptions for certain development costs.

How are intangible assets amortized or tested for impairment?

Assets with a definite life are written off over time. But, assets like goodwill don’t get written off. Instead, they are checked every year for any declines in value compared to what they’re worth.

What are examples of valuable intangible assets for companies?

Technology and brands boost Microsoft’s value. Coca-Cola’s brand is a top intangible asset. Apple’s value comes from its tech, brand, and new product ideas.

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