IAS 38 Intangible Assets

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Standard 2021 Issued
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IAS 38 sets out the criteria for recognising and measuring intangible assets and requires disclosures about them. An intangible asset is an identifiable non-monetary asset without physical substance. Such an asset is identifiable when it is separable, or when it arises from contractual or other legal rights. Separable assets can be sold, transferred, licensed, etc. Examples of intangible assets include computer software, licences, trademarks, patents, films, copyrights and import quotas. Goodwill acquired in a business combination is accounted for in accordance with IFRS 3 and is outside the scope of IAS 38. Internally generated goodwill is within the scope of IAS 38 but is not recognised as an asset because it is not an identifiable resource.

Expenditure for an intangible item is recognised as an expense, unless the item meets the definition of an intangible asset, and:

  • it is probable that there will be future economic benefits from the asset; and
  • the cost of the asset can be reliably measured.

The cost of generating an intangible asset internally is often difficult to distinguish from the cost of maintaining or enhancing the entity’s operations or goodwill. For this reason, internally generated brands, mastheads, publishing titles, customer lists and similar items are not recognised as intangible assets. The costs of generating other internally generated intangible assets are classified into whether they arise in a research phase or a development phase. Research expenditure is recognised as an expense. Development expenditure that meets specified criteria is recognised as the cost of an intangible asset.

Intangible assets are measured initially at cost. After initial recognition, an entity usually measures an intangible asset at cost less accumulated amortisation. It may choose to measure the asset at fair value in rare cases when fair value can be determined by reference to an active market.

An intangible asset with a finite useful life is amortised and is subject to impairment testing. An intangible asset with an indefinite useful life is not amortised, but is tested annually for impairment. When an intangible asset is disposed of, the gain or loss on disposal is included in profit or loss.

Standard history

In April 2001 the International Accounting Standards Board (Board) adopted IAS 38 Intangible Assets, which had originally been issued by the International Accounting Standards Committee in September 1998. That Standard had replaced IAS 9 Research and Development Costs, which had been issued in 1993, which itself replaced an earlier version called Accounting for Research and Development Activities that had been issued in July 1978.

The Board revised IAS 38 in March 2004 as part of the first phase of its Business Combinations project. In January 2008 the Board amended IAS 38 again as part of the second phase of its Business Combinations project.

In May 2014 the Board amended IAS 38 to clarify when the use of a revenue‑based amortisation method is appropriate.

Other Standards have made minor consequential amendments to IAS 38. They include IFRS 10 Consolidated Financial Statements (issued May 2011), IFRS 11 Joint Arrangements (issued May 2011), IFRS 13 Fair Value Measurement (issued May 2011), Annual Improvements to IFRSs 2010–2012 Cycle (issued December 2013), IFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers (issued May 2014), IFRS 16 Leases (issued January 2016), IFRS 17 Insurance Contracts (issued May 2017), Amendments to References to the Conceptual Framework in IFRS Standards (issued March 2018) and Amendments to IFRS 17 (issued June 2020).

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