Productivity puzzle – the role of intangible assets

An intangible asset is an asset that is not physical in nature. While initial discussions referred to registerable intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, intangible assets are increasingly perceived in a much broader way, with implications for both their measurement and for current thinking on their role for innovation and productivity growth.

Work on the measurement of intangibles has focused on broadening the conceptualization of what constitutes a capital investment, developing measures of intangibles at the macro level and more recently also at the micro level for individual firms.

Current treatment of intangible assets however is very partial and uncoordinated, and there is a particular lack within micro level measurement of intangible assets. There is a need for new methodologies and statistics, with micro foundations, and harmonisation of approaches across countries. This is important for a number of reasons. First, this data is needed for micro level analysis, which is important to understand individual firm behaviour and performance. Second, micro level data can form a foundation for aggregation to industry and national account levels, for both statistics and analysis. Third, it can also be valuable in comparison with measurement of intangibles using macro based methods.

One exception is the micro level approach developed in the EU FP7 Innodrive project (see Piekkola (2016) which measures intangibles investments through the use of linked employer-employee data (LEED). The GLOBALINTO will build on this approach to measure through the use of LEED data and other micro-based measures, and also will conduct a new survey on firm investments in intangibles