Intangible asset

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An intangible asset ( English intangible asset ) is accounting a non-physical asset , which in accounting in the balance sheet on the asset side can be detected. The counterpart are the material, i.e. physical objects of property, plant and equipment .


All fixed assets on a balance sheet are made up of property , plant and equipment , intangible assets and financial assets . In order to distinguish tangible assets from other assets, German accounting law decided on the term non-material or intangible objects. The latter has always been viewed as a very difficult and not concretely tangible item in accounting. In English-speaking countries they are therefore "intangible assets" ( English intangible assets called). As early as 1979, Adolf Moxter described intangible assets as the “eternal problem children of accounting law”.


To intangible objects include in particular goodwill , patents and similar rights , utility models , designs , trademarks , recipes , concessions , licenses , trademarks , mastheads, publishing titles , software , customer lists or similar values. Accrued expenses can also meet the criteria of an asset under certain conditions under accounting law. In terms of accounting law, a distinction must be made as to whether these values ​​were created by the accounting company itself (original) or acquired from third parties in return for payment. In order to define what, according to the German Commercial Code (HGB) is considered to be self-made or purchased assets, the bearing of the manufacturing risks is decisive. The license to play in professional football is a license-like right and consequently an intangible asset, so that the balance sheet item "player values" requires the transfer fee to other football clubs to be capitalized as acquisition costs , which are depreciated on a straight-line basis over the entire term of the contract .


Based on the requirement of completeness, the annual financial statements of a company must contain all assets, unless otherwise stipulated by law ( Section 246 (1) HGB). For the purpose of uniformity, balance clarity , economic reality , and balance continuity requires § 266 , para. 2 HGB a subdivision of the assets in intangibles ( English intangible assets ), fixed assets ( English tangible assets ) and investments ( English financial assets ).

Activation ban

Original goodwill, self-created brands, print titles, publishing rights, customer lists or comparable intangible assets may not be capitalized ( Section 248 (2) sentence 2 HGB). Furthermore, expenses for

The commercial law activation ban also applies to the tax balance sheet ( principle of relevance ).

Activation option

Activation can take place in the following cases, but does not have to be done:

  • Internally generated intangible fixed assets can be included as assets in the balance sheet ( Section 248 (2) sentence 1 HGB).
  • Low-value assets must be kept separately in the asset accounting , but do not have to be shown in the balance sheet, but can be written off in full in the year of acquisition ( Section 6 (2) EStG). Under commercial law there is no special regulation on low-value assets. According to the principle of materiality, the capitalization of low-value assets is not required under commercial law. The tax formation and depreciation of a compound item for low-value assets ( Section 6 (2a) EStG ) is, in the opinion of the IDW, also possible in the annual financial statements under commercial law . The immediate depreciation of assets with a useful life of no more than one year, as required by tax law, is an option under commercial law.
  • Development costs may be capitalized in accordance with Section 255 (2a) HGB.
  • Accounting aid for deferred tax assets ( Section 274 (1) HGB) or discount ( Section 250 (3) HGB)

In the tax balance sheet , self-created intangible assets are not recognized as economic goods , so that the principle of relevance due to Section 5 (2) EStG does not apply.

Activation obligation

Purchased intangible fixed assets must always be capitalized. The prerequisite is, on the one hand, the fulfillment of the property status, which is usually given by independent marketability ("individual usability"), and on the other hand, that there is no reason for exclusion from § 248 HGB.


The BilMoG of September 2009 abolished the unequal treatment between tangible and intangible assets. Because until 2009 original tangible assets had to be accounted for, while original intangible assets were not allowed to be accounted for. For capitalized intangible assets, the central valuation rule of Section 253, Paragraph 1, Clause 1 of the German Commercial Code (HGB) applies , so that the acquisition costs for items acquired for payment or the production costs for capitalized development costs are to be recognized. If, in exceptional cases, the useful life of a self-created intangible fixed asset cannot be reliably estimated, the scheduled depreciation is to be spread over 10 years according to Section 253 (3) sentence 3 HGB ; this also applies to goodwill (Section 253, Paragraph 3, Clause 4 of the German Commercial Code). Unscheduled depreciation is to be carried out in the event of a permanent decrease in value .


According to Section 266, Paragraph 2, Number AI HGB, there is a separate balance sheet item for intangible assets in the fixed assets , which is divided into “self-created industrial property rights and similar rights and values”, “concessions acquired for a fee, industrial property rights and similar rights and values, and licenses in such rights and values ​​”,“ goodwill ”and“ payments on account ”. The latter include down payments on the aforementioned, purchased intangible assets.


In the area of ​​intangible assets, the BilMoG has ensured that German accounting law has been largely adapted to international accounting standards. Intangible assets are all identifiable, non-monetary and non-physical assets. Their accounting is regulated in IAS 38 . In addition to the criterion of identifiability, it must be checked whether the values ​​are under the control of the accounting company, whether a future economic benefit can be expected and whether the acquisition or production costs can be reliably determined. According to IAS 38.48, there is a balancing ban for the self-created goodwill, while IAS 38.63 pronounce an accounting ban on internally generated brands, mastheads, publishing titles, customer lists and similar items. Because of their uniqueness, there is no active market for such items (IAS 38.78). While research costs may not be capitalized (IAS 38.54), development costs must be capitalized according to IAS 38.57 if the requirements listed in this rule are met. For subsequent measurement, IAS 38.74 prescribes either the acquisition cost or the revaluation method. However, the use of the revaluation method assumes that there must be an active market for these assets (IAS 38.75, 38.81), which is rarely the case in practice.


  • Böhm, Oliver and Siebert, Hilmar: Evaluation of intangible assets in Henke, Michael and Siebert, Hilmar: Accounting, Auditing and Management: Festschrift for Wolfgang Lück , Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-503-11048-3 , pp. 3– 20th
  • Adolf G. Coenenberg , u. a .: Annual accounts and annual accounts analysis , 21st edition, Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 3-7910-2770-0
  • Eberhard Kossack: The intangible assets and their treatment in the balance sheet . Gabler 1960 ( online )

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Adolf Moxter, intangible assets in the new accounting law , in: Betriebs-Berater 51/52, 1979, p. 1102
  2. The identification of software in the annual financial statements (HGB) (PDF; 50 kB)
  3. BFH, judgment of December 14, 2011 - Az .: IR 108/10
  4. IDW specialist news. No. 10/2007, p. 506.
  5. Michael Kozikowski / Klaus Roscher / Marianne Schramm, Beck'scher balance comment. 7th edition, 2010, § 253 marginal number 275.
  6. BT-Drucksache 16/10067 of July 30, 2008, draft of a law for the modernization of accounting law , p. 50