It's tough to win bank credit when your company's biggest assets are intellectual property.

A recent court decision will make it tougher still, because bankers are now required to treat certain intellectual-property assets differently from others. But if CEOs understand those differences, they can shape bank pitches accordingly.

"Intellectual-property assets generally take the form of copyrights, patents, or trademarks," explains Michael Dunne, a partner at Florham Park, N.J., law firm Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch. The key issue, he says, is how bankers will handle those assets as loan collateral.

The court decision that came out of National Peregrine Inc. v. Capitol Federal Savings & Loan requires banks to file copyright liens at the federal level and update them with each copyright development. (If they don't, or if they simply file at the state level, they've got no rights, even on a defaulted loan.) That's fairly onerous, compared with current rules that permit bankers to file against trademarks or patents just once, at the state level.

"This means CEOs probably have a better chance of getting a loan when they have trademarks or patents," notes Dunne. His advice: With any type of intellectual-property asset, get its value (and projected income stream) assessed by an appraiser who specializes in intangibles, before approaching any banker. "With copyrights, check into bank policy to make certain you approach only bankers willing to deal with the new guidelines."