Intellectual capital is the result of mental processes that form a set of intangible objects that can be used in economic activity and bring income to its owner (organization), covering the competencies of its people (human capital), the value relating to its relationships (relational capital), and everything that is left when the employees go home (structural capital),[1] of which intellectual property (IP) is but one component.[2] It is the sum of everything everybody in a company knows that gives it a competitive edge.[3] The term is used in academia in an attempt to account for the value of intangible assets not listed explicitly on a company's balance sheets.[4] On a national level, intellectual capital refers to national intangible capital (NIC).[5]

A second meaning that is used in academia and was adopted in large corporations is focused on the recycling of knowledge via knowledge management and intellectual capital management (ICM).[6][7][8] Creating, shaping and updating the stock of intellectual capital requires the formulation of a strategic vision, which blends together all three dimensions of intellectual capital within the organisational context through exploration, exploitation, measurement, and disclosure.[9] Intellectual capital is used in assessing the wealth of organizations.[3] A metric for the value of intellectual capital is the amount by which the enterprise value of a firm exceeds the value of its tangible (physical and financial) assets.[10][11] Directly visible on corporate books is capital embodied in its physical assets and financial capital; however all three make up the value of an enterprise.[12] Measuring the real value and the total performance of intellectual capital's components is a critical part of running a company in the knowledge economy and Information Age. Understanding the intellectual capital in an enterprise allows leveraging of its intellectual assets.[6] For a corporation, the result will optimize its stock price.

The IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) committee developed the International Accounting System 38 with the purpose of prescribing the accounting treatment for intangible assets. IAS 38.8 defines an intangible asset as an identifiable non-monetary asset without physical substance. An asset is a resource that is controlled by the entity as the result of past events (for example purchase or self-creation) and from which future economic benefits (inflows of cash or other benefits) are expected.


Intellectual capital is normally classified as follows:


The intangible nature of many knowledge products and processes, in combination with the increasing importance of their value in corporate balance sheets leads to a growing interest in management of intellectual capital. Creating, shaping and updating the stock of intellectual capital requires the formulation of a strategic vision, which blends together all three dimensions of intellectual capital (human, structural and relational capital) within the organisational context through exploration and exploitation, measurement and disclosure.[9] Therefore, the organisational value of intellectual capital is developed via an ongoing and emergent process focused on the capability to leverage, develop and change the dimensions.[17] The management of intellectual capital is conceptualised as occurring via a multiple stage process, governed by an evolutionary logic. Intellectual capital management is defined as a cycle of four inter-related sets of practices: strategic alignment, exploration and exploitation, measurement, and reporting of intellectual capital.[6]

The recognizing and managing of intellectual capital within organizations is not always evident and straightforward; for example, what IC means differ from organization to organization; thus requiring a contextual understanding.[18]


The management of intellectual capital is conceptualised as occurring via a multiple stage process, governed by an evolutionary logic.[9] For a business, translating the potential of its intellectual capital is crucial.[19] Works that focus on the subset, namely the patents, copyrights, and trade secrets, ignore the benefits of their use with the business.[20] Other terms include "intangible assets".[21] While corporate reports often stress the value and the know-how of its staff, this crucial asset cannot be considered property. The term "workforce-in-place" can be used as a category when companies with their staff are purchased.[22] Without that category, most of the excess purchase price over the tangible book value would just appear as goodwill. In order to profit from intellectual capital, knowledge management has become a task for management.[23] Often, intellectual capital, or at least rights to it, are moved off-shore for exploitation, which entails risks that are hard to value.[12] The transfer of rights to intellectual capital to offshore subsidiaries is a major enabler of corporate tax avoidance.[24]


An intellectual capital audit is an audit of a company's intellectual capital to monitor and oversee the intellectual capital of a firm in order to capitalize on intellectual capital already within the company, and to identify opportunities to increase the intellectual capital of the company.[4]: 86 

Early methods of intellectual capital measurement include the balanced scorecard (BSC) framework, the Skandia Navigator, and the Intangible Asset Monitor. Additionally, the Value-Added Intellectual Coefficient method (VAIC) was introduced in 1993 to measure the value created by intellectual capital.[25]

Intellectual capital and stock returns growth

Changes in stock returns are primarily determined by external factors such as inflation, exchange rates, and socioeconomic conditions. Intellectual capital does not affect a company stock's current earnings. Intellectual capital contributes to a stock's return growth.[26]


  1. ^ a b Edvinsson, Leif; Malone, Michael S. (1997). Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company's True Value by Finding its Hidden Brainpower. New York: HarperBusiness. ISBN 9780887308413. OCLC 36024079.
  2. ^ Luthy, David H. (1998). "Intellectual capital and its measurement". Proceedings of the Asian Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting Conference (APIRA), Osaka, Japan. CiteSeerX
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  7. ^ Choo, Chun Wei; Bontis, Nick (2002). The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital and Organizational Knowledge. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019515486X. OCLC 48429047.
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  11. ^ Sveiby, Karl Erik (1997). "The Intangible Asset Monitor". Journal of Human Resource Costing and Accounting. 2 (1).
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  24. ^ Reuven S. Avi-Yonah: Statement to Congress; University of Michigan School of Law, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, U.S. Congress, 20 Sep. 2012
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