NEW YORK: Google, Microsoft and Wal-Mart are among the companies with the most valuable trademarks, indicating the strong positions occupied by their brands.

Business publication Forbes commissioned specialist consultancy Brand Finance to establish which trademarks enjoyed the highest net worth.

The organisation analysed the potential future returns that could be accrued from each asset, based on an assessment of how much it would cost to license from a third party.

"The single largest source of intangible value in a company is its trademark," David Haigh, the founder of Brand Finance, said. "That insight is a major sea change that has come about over the last couple of years."

"Even using conservative financial measures you end up with extremely large asset numbers."

Google headed the charts on $44bn, equivalent to 27% of the online pioneer's market capitalisation, reaching $164bn.

During its initial public offering, the firm actually expressed concerns regarding the fact the word "Google" may become a surrogate for the term "search".

This led to worries covering the dilution of its brand value and a loss of control over its trademark.

However, the success of its Android operating system and expansion with products from the Chrome internet browser to web-connected set-top boxes shows the confidence it has in its name carrying a wide cachet.

Microsoft claimed second place, registering $42.8bn, although this figure constituted a smaller percentage of its stock market value, $204bn, than was the case for Google.

The IT group has fallen behind when considering smartphones and tablets, but chief executive Steve Ballmer argued the popular Xbox games console and Kinect hands-free controller are models for progress going forward.

"It doesn't mean we have to make any particular class of device, but thinking through, end-to-end, how the hardware and software comes together, as opposed to artificially boxing the way we think," he said.

Retailer Wal-Mart, employing 2m staff and operating nearly 9,000 stores, logged $36.2bn on Brand Finance's scale, from a shareholder value of $184bn.

The discounter has recently outlined the priorities both of reinforcing its central brand proposition globally and forging ahead in the digital arena.

"Nothing builds more loyalty with customers than everyday low prices," said Mike Duke, Wal-Mart's chief executive. "Everyday low prices in every market. No exceptions. No excuses."

"With our stores and low prices, we can really take advantage of mobile technology and this era of price transparency."

IBM, currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, boasts a trademark worth $36.2bn, measured against a total of $199bn on the stock exchange.

The status of "Big Blue" is especially noteworthy given its evolution away from manufacturing physical goods like computers to providing high-tech business solutions.

"IBM has survived and thrived for 100 years by remaining true to our core values, while being ready to change everything else," Samuel Palmisano, IBM's chief executive, said.

Telecoms giant Vodafone was next in the Brand Finance rankings, as its trademark would cost $30.7bn to license. Its stock commands an aggregate of $138bn, Forbes reported.

Under chief executive Vittorio Colao, Vodafone is undertaking a shift in focus and streamlining its portfolio, emphasising wholly-owned assets.

"I want a network-based organisation that is more empowered, more accountable at every juncture," said Colao.

"We set out a simplification plan for our minority holdings and non-controlled businesses. That's underway - so far, we've achieved the right prices."

Completing Brand Finance's list was Bank of America, generating $30.6bn, General Electric, posting $30.5bn, Apple, yielding $29.5bn, and Wells Fargo, receiving $28.9bn, the same amount as AT&T.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff