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FASB finalizes guidance on licensing, performance obligations

Tammy Whitehouse | April 14, 2016

The Financial Accounting Standards Board has finalized another piece of guidance related to the new revenue recognition standard meant to help smooth over adoption challenges.

FASB approved Accounting Standards Update No. 2016-10 on identifying performance obligations and licensing to answer questions that arose in both of those areas as companies prepared to implement the standard. FASB developed the guidance at the suggestion of the Transition Resource Group, which has vetted dozens of implementation questions and recommended a handful to FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board for clarification through the standard-setting process.

With respect to identifying performance obligations, FASB’s new guidance says entities are not required to assess whether promised goods or services are performance obligations if they are immaterial in the contract with the customer. The new guidance also gives companies an option to simplify the accounting for certain shipping and handling costs through an accounting policy election.

As for licensing, FASB says that an entity’s promise to grant a customer license to intellectual property with significant standalone functionality does not include supporting or maintaining that IP during the license period. The guidance provides some clarification around how to interpret the requirements around symbolic IP, like brands, trade names, logos, and franchise rights. It also addresses the scope and applicability of guidance regarding sales-based and usage-based royalties that are promised in exchange for a license of IP.

The IASB recently finalized its clarification guidance around its revenue recognition standard for International Financial Reporting Standards, although FASB notes some differences in IASB’s clarifications that “could create generally minor differences in financial reporting between GAAP and IFRS.” Those differences are focused on the treatment of shipping and handling costs, licenses around symbolic IP, and treatment of license renewals or extensions.

FASB earlier finalized its guidance on gross versus net recognition of revenue, which hinges on whether the entity recognizing revenue is the principal or agent in a customer contract. The board also has finalized its decision making around some technical corrections to the standard, but has not yet issued the final update to accounting standards.

Some accounting experts have said companies are waiting for FASB to finalize its changes to the standard before digging deeply into their implementation efforts. The standard takes effect in 2018, a year later than originally planned after FASB granted a one-year delay.