Change in Fair Value Accounting rules and IP

Would a change in accounting rules, as they are now being discussed, have an impact on the role IP can play as a collateral for (new) debts? The current financial crisis has brought about a call for easing the accounting rules on fair value of assets (meaning that companies have to mark most of their financial holdings to market prices). Those who are in favor of easing the accounting rules on fair value claim that fair value has undermined banks’ balance sheets by forcing them to report assets at current (weak) market prices even though banks have no intention selling those assets. Europe has put pressure on the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to change the existing rules. Under the rule changes, banks and other financial institutions would be able to “reclassify” certain financial instruments, meaning that they can move them from their trading books (where they must be recorded as “fair” or current, market value) to their banking books, where they can be reported at “amortized costs”(so further falls in market prices would not affect their “value”)[1].

What, if any, effect would easing the existing rules have on IP valuation?

One would be inclined to think that a fairly recorded balance sheet have now become even more necessary after the subprime mortgage mess (or “securitizations” where SPVs or Special Purpose Vehicles were set up to “hide” assets from the balance sheet) have become a non-starter in the financial world. As balance sheets are there to reflect the true status of the company, it’s worth having a look at how IP is being reported on a company’s balance sheet. For long, historical cost accounting was sufficient as long as a company’s assets consisted mostly of identifiable tangible assets. With IP as an intangible assets this accounting model resulted in under-valuing and under-recording assets that contribute significantly to the company’s results. Intangible assets are until now recorded in the balance sheet- like purchased patents- at historical cost. Knowledge assets developed from research and development are not recorded at all. Consequently, disparities between companies’ book and market values exist, and the users of financial statements have pressed for more relevant fair-value information in the past.

With the new rules that now seem to be prevalent, can IP be more accurately accounted for in a company’s balance sheet? Non being an accountant, nor a valuator or financial wizard, we could not find anyone commenting on this (yet). Fair guess: with over 100+ methods of valuating intangibles and the ones we favor is “context” driven, one wonders how that could play out in the current “fair value” reporting in any balance sheet of a IP heavyweight company.

[1], Niki Tait and Jennifer Hughes, EU regulators back emergency change to bank accounting rules”, FT October 16, 2008

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