The accounting for research and development costs under IFRS can be significantly more complex than under US GAAP.
Companies often incur costs to develop products and services that they intend to use or sell. The accounting for these research and development costs under IFRS can be significantly more complex than under US GAAP
Under US GAAP, R&D costs within the scope of ASC 7301 are expensed as incurred. US GAAP also has specific requirements for motion picture films, website development, cloud computing costs and software development costs.
Under IFRS (IAS 382), research costs are expensed, like US GAAP. However, unlike US GAAP, IFRS has broad-based guidance that requires companies to capitalize development expenditures, including internal costs, when certain criteria are met.
Based on these criteria, internally developed intangible assets (e.g. development expenses related to a prototype in the automotive industry) are generally capitalized and amortized under IFRS and expensed under US GAAP. This difference gives rise to two complexities in applying IFRS: distinguishing development activities from research activities, and analyzing whether and when the criteria for capitalizing development expenditures are met.
The starting point for companies applying IFRS is to differentiate between costs that are related to ‘research’ activities versus those related to ‘development’ activities. While the definition of what constitutes ‘research’ versus ‘development’ is very similar between IFRS and US GAAP, neither provides a bright line on separating the two. Instead, a company needs to develop processes and controls that allow it to make that distinction based on the nature of different activities.
|Definition||Costs related to original and planned investigation undertaken with the prospect of gaining new scientific or technical knowledge and understanding.||Incurred in the application of research findings or other knowledge to a plan or design for the production of new or substantially improved materials, devices, products, processes, systems or services before the start of commercial production or use.|
Expenditures incurred in the development phase of a project are capitalized from the point in time that the company is able to demonstrate all of the following.
In our experience, the key factor in the above list is technical feasibility. There is no definition or further guidance to help determine when a project crosses that threshold. Instead, companies need to evaluate technical feasibility in relation to each specific project. Projects related to new product developments are generally more difficult to substantiate than projects in which the entity has more experience.
To learn more about the differences between IFRS and US GAAP, see KPMG’s publication, IFRS compared to US GAAP.
What about acquired R&D projects ?
R&D intangible assets (in-process R&D, or IPR&D) may be acquired rather than developed internally. As a general principle under IFRS, the acquired IPR&D is capitalized. However, the amount capitalized and the differences between IFRS and US GAAP depend on whether a ‘business’ or a single asset/group of assets is acquired. Under US GAAP, only IPR&D acquired in a business combination is capitalized post-acquisition.
The definition of a business is an area of change under both US GAAP and IFRS.
Expect future articles addressing the definition of a business under finalized amendments to IFRS and any differences from US GAAP, and the accounting for IPR&D.