New Athena report: Case studies in intangible asset financing

As innovative companies struggle to raise funds, intellectual property and intangible assets are providing alternative ways of financing innovation. But greater awareness of them as an asset class is needed. Raising that awareness is the focus of a new report from Athena Alliance, Maximizing Intellectual Property and Intangible Assets: Case Studies in Intangible Asset Finance (also in pdf version) by Ian Ellis, a former U.S. Department of Commerce official specializing in intellectual property and international trade. The report outlines increasing, but still nascent, means of financing innovation based on these assets in public, private and venture capital markets. As industry has invested capital in research and development to develop new technology and advance other creative activities, intellectual capital has become a valuable asset class, according to the paper. In response, firms specializing in intangible-based financing are springing up, using them to raise capital for the next round of innovation.

The paper details equity, equity-debt, debt, and sale-leaseback transactions, both private and public, that have helped companies raise capital, based on careful, rigorous analysis and conservative underwriting standards. For example, the author notes that in 2000, there were two public deals using royalty securitization, raising $145 million. In 2007-08, $3.3 billion was raised in 19 deals.

Unlike some of the exotic financial vehicles, however, the financial products discussed in this report are some of the most basic financing mechanisms in business. The innovation is in recognizing the value of intangible assets for corporate finance. These new financial firms are using traditional financial techniques in new ways to help innovative companies.

But more should be done.

One important step would be developing sound, industry-wide, underwriting standards, according to the report. For example, Small Business Administration (SBA) rules permit its loans to be used for acquisition of intangible assets when buying on-going businesses. Rules are unclear on whether those assets can be used as collateral. The paper recommends that SBA work with commercial lenders to develop standards for using intangible assets as collateral.

The report builds on earlier Athena Alliance papers, notably Intangible Asset Monetization: The Promise and the Reality. A summary of the public policy recommendations in that report are available in an earlier posting.

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