H plc is a major electronics company. It spends a substantial amount of money on research and…

H plc is a major electronics company. It spends a substantial amount of money on research and development. The company has a policy of capitalising development expenditure, but writes off pure and applied research expenditure immediately in accordance with the requirements of SSAP 13 – Research and Development.

The company’s latest annual report included a page of voluntary disclosures about the effectiveness of the company’s research programme. This indicated that the company’s prosperity depended on the development of new products and that this could be a very long process. In order to maintain its technical lead, the company often funded academic research studies into theoretical areas, some of which led to breakthroughs which H plc was able to patent and develop into new product ideas. The company claimed that the money spent in this way was a good investment because for every twenty unsuccessful projects there was usually at least one valuable discovery which generated enough profit to cover the whole cost of the research activities. Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell in advance which projects would succeed in this way.

A shareholder expressed dismay at H plc’s policy of writing off research costs in this manner. He felt that this was unduly pessimistic given that the company earned a good return from its research activities. He felt that the company should invoke the Accounting Standards Board’s true and fair override and capitalise all research costs.

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