Thursday, August 5, 2010

Computer Software Cost, Capitalized or Expensed ?

Based on IAS 38 Intangible Assets, paragraph 4 which explains that some intangible assets may be contained in or on a physical substance such as a compact disc (in the case of computer software), legal documentation (in the case of license or patent) or film. In determining whether an asset that incorporates both intangible and tangible elements should be treated under IAS 16 Property, Plant and Equipment or as an intangible asset under IAS 38, an entity uses judgment to assess which element is more significant.

For example, computer software for a computer-controlled machine tool that cannot operate without that specific software is an integral part of the related hardware and it is treated as property, plant and equipment. The same applies to the operating system of a computer. When the software is not an integral part of the related hardware, computer software is treated as an intangible asset.

In connection with the accounting approach for the recognition of computer software costs, several questions may come up :

1. In the case of a company developing software programs for sale, should the costs incurred in developing the software be expensed, or should the costs be capitalized and amortized ?
2. If the developing software programs to be used for in-house applications only, how is the treatment ?
3. In the case of purchased software, should the cost of the software be capitalized as a tangible asset or as an intangible asset, or should it be expensed fully and immediately ?

Referring to the provision of IAS 38, the above questions can be clarified as follows :

(1) In the case of a software-developing company, the costs incurred in the development of software programs are research and development costs. Accordingly, as regulates in para. 54 of IAS 38, all expenses incurred in the research phase would be expensed. That is, all expenses incurred before technological feasibility for the product has been established should be expensed. The reporting entity would have to demonstrate both technological feasibility and a probability of its commercial success.

Technological feasibility would be established if the entity has completed a detailed program design or working model. The entity should have completed the planning, designing, coding, and testing activities and established that the product can be successfully produced.

Apart from being capable of production, the entity should demonstrate that it has the intention and ability to use or sell the program. Action taken to obtain control over the program in the form of copyrights or patents would support capitalization of these costs. At this stage the software program would be able to meet the criteria of identifiability, control, and future economic benefits, and can thus be capitalized and amortized as an intangible asset.

(2) In the case of software internally developed for in-house use – for example, a computerized payroll program developed by the reporting entity itself – the accounting approach would be different. While the program developed may have some utility to the entity itself, it would be difficult to demonstrate how the program would generate future economic benefits to the entity. Also, in the absence of any legal rights to control the program or to prevent others from using it, the recognition criteria would not be met. Further, the cost proposed to be capitalized should be recoverable. In view of the impairment test prescribed by the standard, the carrying amount of the asset may not be recoverable and would accordingly have to be adjusted. Considering the above facts, such costs may need to be expensed.

(3) In the case of purchased software, the treatment could differ and would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Software purchased for sale would be treated as inventory. However, software held for licensing or rental to others should be recognized as an intangible asset. On the other hand, cost of software purchased by an entity for its own use and which is integral to the hardware (because without that software the equipment cannot operate), would be treated as part of cost of the hardware and capitalized as property, plant, or equipment. Thus, the cost of an operating system purchased for an in-house computer, or cost of software purchased for computer-controlled machine tool, are treated as part of the related hardware.

The cost of other software programs should be treated as intangible assets (as opposed to being capitalized along with the related hardware), as they are not an integral part of the hardware. For example, the cost of payroll or inventory software (purchased) may be treated as an intangible asset provided it meets the capitalization criteria under IAS 38.

Source : IAS 38 Intangible Assets and Wiley – Interpretation and Application of IFRS, Barry J. Epstein and Eva K. Jermakowicz


  1. Hi, thanks for the post. I run a small software development company. Our largest asset is a software package (60% of our total assets) and that package generates 40% of our sales. IFRS for SMEs, section 18.14 states that ALL costs related to internally generated intangible assets (i.e. software development costs) should be registered as expenses. Application of section 18 of IFRS for SMEs would cause fatal losses, resulting in negative equity, and seriously distorting the financial image of our company. Can you see a solution? Or can you suggest another resource to find a solution? Thanks in advance.

    1. I am sorry i have this problem too, in the end if software bought and developed in house for the operation to generate revenue, without the software business can’t goes on maybe for example Amazon website developed in house intergrated and link with in house accounting software, is it expenses or capital?

  2. for no. 2 software internally developed for own use but in our case there is third party who developed that for us. yes i will expense this but what type of expense? is it professional fees or maintenance cost?

  3. I'll prefer to post it as "Maintenance Cost"

  4. hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)

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  6. Hi, thanks for this post. This is really good stuff. I have a question. What if you develop a payroll system for internal use with two internal developers and two external developers. Can you recognize the costs of the external developers while the internal developers are expensed? Cheers

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