Information Innovation Intangible Economy title

Working Paper #03



Intangible Asset Monetization

The Promise and the Reality

Kenan Patrick Jarboe
Roland Furrow

Athena Alliance

April 2008

Executive Summary

T

he economy of the United States is now largely driven by intangible assets. These assets include worker skills and know-how, innovative work organizations, business methods, brands, and formal intellectual property, such as patents and copyrights. They are producing an economy very different from the one of the past. As the U.S. moves away from a manufacturing-based economy and toward a technology-and-innovation driven one, intangible asset investments are becoming vital to economic growth and sustainability. Just as physical assets were used to finance the creation of more physical assets during the industrial age, intangible assets should be used to finance the creation of more intangible assets in the information age.

 

Intangible assets show up in the financial system in various ways. They are valued—often implicitly, sometimes explicitly—in financial markets by analysts, in stock prices, in ratings by credit agencies and for private lender programs. Mechanisms for raising capital based on intangibles already exist, including securitization, lending, licensing, and outright sale. Recent financial innovations have better captured intangibles in the financial markets.

 

But the evolution of robust capital markets that both utilize and support intangibles has been slow. Intangibles are still not can be considered on the balance sheet nor given due credit for playing a vital role on the income statement. Intangible assets have no standardized financial tools to capture their value. Each intangible asset financing deal seems to be a unique, one-off event employing differing models to determine the assets’ value. The associated perceptions of risk—in some cases exacerbated by actual events, such as the subprime mortgage meltdown—have greatly hampered the utilization of intangibles in capital markets.

 

As a result, companies are missing substantial capital resources that could be used for business expansion or innovation investment. To effectively realize the significant potential of intangibles, industry standards and government regulations need to promote the acceptance, use, and dissemination of intangible assets in the economy.

 

A number of factors must be considered by the financial markets to determine the suitability of an asset, including asset recognition, valuation, separability, transferability, duration, and risk. However, management and capital markets have failed to solve the very real problem of valuation, which severely undermines attempts to create financial leverage for the asset. This valuation deficit must be remedied for businesses and the economy to remain fully viable and sustainable over the long term.

 

Despite these drawbacks, intangible asset monetization could be the key that unlocks a vault of unexplored, exciting, and extremely useful sets of financial risk-mitigation instruments.

 

A secure, open, transparent, fair, and efficient capital market for intangible assets depends on government and independent regulatory bodies playing an active role. Yet very little public or private research exists that clearly explores this asset class. Thus, the greatest potential contribution from public policy may be to raise awareness and encourage utilization and better understanding of all facets of intangibles.

 

Beyond this basic need, numerous other actions are required to change the situation. There is no magic bullet; no single government or industry action will resolve all the issues. But policymakers play a key role in promoting acceptance, use, and dissemination of intangible assets in the market. Areas in need of attention include patent reform, securities definitions, banking regulations, perfection and bankruptcy laws, technology policy and tax policy. Industry standards and procedures also need attention, especially in valuation.

 

Some key policy actions include:

  • Reinstate the joint Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) research project on expanded disclosure guidelines for intangibles.
  • Convene a special FASB/Securities and Exchange Commission ( SEC ) task force on the valuation.
  • Create a safe harbor in financial statements for corporate reporting of intangible assets.
  • Explore the creation of an Intangibles Mortgage Corporation (Ida Mae) to regularize the intangibles-backed securities market, either as a limited government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) or as an independent organization.
  • Create a national central registry of intellectual property security interests.
  • Create a permanent knowledge tax credit that would increase investments in intangibles.
  • Explore lowering the tax rate on intangible asset royalties, in conjunction with stricter regulations on international transfer pricing mechanisms and cost-sharing arrangements and on passive investment companies.
  • Enact patent reform legislation and include a review of patent litigation and patent liability insurance.
  • Review how the federal technology transfer system, including Bayh–Dole, does or does not facilitate the creation of intangible assets.
  • Review the Basel II Accords to better understand their implications for intangible-backed lending.
  • Review federal government business loan programs, especially in the small business arena, to ensure that intangible assets can be used as collateral.
  • Coordinate with ongoing efforts at market reform, such as the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, to ensure that intangible-backed assets are properly included.

Perhaps the single most important step is the recognition that intangible assets are not covered in existing financial structures. Our economic policies and regulatory systems, public and private, are still largely set up to accommodate the tangible assets of the industrial era—buildings, fixed resources, and machinery. This is not surprising; these systems have evolved over the past couple of centuries as the industrial revolution unfolded.

 

Today, intangible assets—knowledge, ideas, skills, relationships, and organization—have come to underpin value creation; their monetization is now essential. But this will require newly relevant policies and structures that unleash the economy from the strictures of the past and pave a new way forward for financial success in America and around the world. The opportunities they portend make the recognition, valuation, and utilization of intangibles essential to the success of U.S. enterprises and prosperity of the U.S. economy.

 

 

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