The separability criterion means that an acquired intangible asset is capable of being separated or divided from the acquiree and sold, transferred, licensed, rented or exchanged, either individually or together with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability.
An intangible asset that the acquirer would be able to sell, license or otherwise exchange for something else of value meets the separability criterion even if the acquirer does not intend to sell, license or otherwise exchange it.
The separability criterion is of importance because it is one of the criteria to identify assets:
An asset is identifiable if it is either:
- separable, i.e. is capable of being separated or divided from the entity and sold, transferred, licensed, rented or exchanged, either individually or together with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability, regardless of whether the entity intends to do so; or
- arises from contractual or other legal rights, regardless of whether those rights are transferable or separable from the entity or from other rights and obligations.
But an intangible asset does not only have to be identifiable, it take more than that! An intangible asset shall be recognised if, and only if:
- it is probable that future economic benefits that are attributable to the asset will flow to the entity; and
- the cost of the asset can be measured reliably.
An entity shall assess the probability of expected future economic benefits using reasonable and supportable assumptions that represent management’s best estimate of the set of economic conditions that will exist over the useful life of the asset.
An intangible asset shall be measured initially at cost.
An acquired intangible asset meets the separability criterion if there is evidence of exchange transactions for that type of asset or an asset of a similar type, even if those transactions are infrequent and regardless of whether the acquirer is involved in them. For example, customer and subscriber lists are frequently licensed and thus meet the separability criterion.
Even if an acquiree believes its customer lists have characteristics different from other customer lists, the fact that customer lists are frequently licensed generally means that the acquired customer list meets the separability criterion. However, a customer list acquired in a business combination would not meet the separability criterion if the terms of confidentiality or other agreements prohibit an entity from selling, leasing or otherwise exchanging information about its customers.
An intangible asset that is not individually separable from the acquiree or combined entity meets the separability criterion if it is separable in combination with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability. For example:
- market participants exchange deposit liabilities and related depositor relationship intangible assets in observable exchange transactions. Therefore, the acquirer should recognise the depositor relationship intangible asset separately from goodwill.
- an acquiree owns a registered trademark and documented but unpatented technical expertise used to manufacture the trademarked product. To transfer ownership of a trademark, the owner is also required to transfer everything else necessary for the new owner to produce a product or service indistinguishable from that produced by the former owner. Because the unpatented technical expertise must be separated from the acquiree or combined entity and sold if the related trademark is sold, it meets the separability criterion.
The cost of a separately acquired intangible asset can usually be measured reliably. This is when the purchase consideration is in the form of cash or other monetary assets. The cost of a separately acquired intangible asset comprises:
- its purchase price, including import duties and non-refundable purchase taxes, after deducting trade discounts and rebates; and
- any directly attributable cost of preparing the asset for its intended use.
Internally generated intangible assets
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 asset acquired in a business combination
If an intangible asset acquired in a business combination is separable or arises from contractual or other legal rights, sufficient information exists to measure reliably the fair value of the asset. An intangible asset acquired in a business combination might be separable, but only together with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability. In such cases, the acquirer recognises the intangible asset separately from goodwill, but together with the related item.