There is a growing demand to know the status and evolution of firms’ intangible assets. It is motivated by the strategic relevance assigned to these intangible assets. The so-called intangible economy is one of the approaches to the study of intellectual capital (IC), which has attracted the interest of most researchers. The intangible economy treats these assets, because of their special attributes, as having the potential to create competitive advantages for the firm. In this context, the management of intangibles becomes a fundamental strategy from the competitive point of view. If the company does not manage correctly its intangible assets or IC, strategic opportunities will be lost, and even because of the turbulence and complexity of the present environments the position reached in the market could be damaged. This is the topic of the present work. Specifically, we will characterize the concept of IC, and in particular of human capital. Human capital is one of the three divisions into which the intangible dimension of organizations is structured. That intangible dimension is linked to the values, attitudes, and competence of the organization’s employees.
It is evident that an organization’s intangible assets are related to its IC. However this relationship is actually not so clear because of the different existing approaches to the topic.
First, some authors consider that the use of these terms depends on the context. Thus, Lev (2003) indicates a set of terms that are nowadays used interchangeably: intangible, knowledge resources, and IC. He states that all of them are widely used—intangible in the accounting literature, knowledge assets by economists, and IC by management specialists and in the legal literature—and represent the same thing. All of these terms represent some claim that the firm will obtain future benefits that lack physical substance. Also Sánchez, Chaminade, and Olea (2000) and Vickery (2000) observe in this sense that the IC and intangible assets concepts, in spite of having an identical meaning, are used in different contexts. Intangible assets are considered to be an accounting term within the balance sheet, and IC is more used from the perspective of human resources.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Human Capital: All the intangible assets associated with the company’s personnel, such as their skills, motivation, experience, commitment, and so forth.
Knowledge Management: The problem of the distribution of knowledge in the organization using the most appropriate tools for this activity is the central activity of this perspective.
Intellectual Capital: The set of intangible assets linked to the human, structural, and relational areas present at a given time in a company, and which are part of its value creating process.
Intangible Asset: A resource that lacks physical substance and that will contribute to the future obtaining of benefits.