Companies spend millions protecting and promoting their brands. Now the Olympic Committee is trying to make “London 2012” into the next superbrand, but can you really claim ownership of a date and a city’s name?

Five months ago, more than a dozen companies spent small fortunes to expose their brand to millions around the world by sponsoring the World Cup. Can you remember who they were?

Think back to the Wimbledon men’s final. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both had the same sponsor – a brilliant piece of marketing. In Nike vs Nike, there could only be one winner.

Brands have come far since Oxo built a logo over its factory. Branding started in the 19th century as a guarantee of quality as mass-produced commodities replaced local ones. Now, brands are worth billions. What is the value of the Coke or Microsoft label? Even the Beatles were beaten by Apple in a recent court case over the use of fruit as a symbol.

The average decision about which brand to buy is made in 2.6 seconds, so maintaining brand awareness is crucial. As is protecting your brand from abuse and imitation – think of Burberry plaid and its adoption by “chavs”.

A company’s image is summed up by how its brand is perceived, its values and customers’ relationships with it. Think of British Airways, and the damage caused by removing the Union Jack from its tailfins.

With the forthcoming Olympics, we find the farcical situation of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) planning to use 2012 as a brand. Even 20th Century Fox didn’t sue people for referring to the “20th century”.

The Locog is responsible for raising £2bn through marketing, with any shortfall being made up by the UK taxpayer. The only Games in recent history to make a profit was Atlanta in 1996, where corporate logos littered every surface. Rumour has it, people were stopped from taking drinks bearing logos other than those of official sponsors into Olympic venues. This lead to criticism that the spirit of the Games had been sacrificed to the god of commerce.

For our Olympics, Locog is trying to sell the right to use the name “London” and a date, with the word “Olympics”. This strikes me as nebulous.

I can’t imagine us hiring private detectives to track down fraudsters touting T-shirts with our logos

The committee has the unenviable task of stopping unauthorised people cashing in on the Olympics. I’m told even Olympians who have competed and won, are prevented from using the word “Olympics” in their marketing literature. They can use “Olympian”, but they can’t say they won an “Olympic medal”. It’s rumoured that in similar situations, private investigators have been employed to track down those flouting the rules.

To assist Locog, parliament has passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, preventing unauthorised association with the Games and prohibiting the use of any two of the expressions: Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012 or Twenty-Twelve, being used with one or more of these words: London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver or bronze.

You can understand what the committee is trying to do. They have a huge sum of money to raise and must prevent any old flea-market entrepreneur cashing in, but my feeling is that most upstanding corporations wouldn’t dream of ripping off the Olympics. The damage to their brands through bad publicity would far outweigh any gains.

Is there really enough money being made through counterfeiting to make a serious dent in the £2bn target? Surely, asking that anyone wishing to use registered Olympic devices obtains the necessary licences is enough?

In our industry, branding is important but not nearly as significant as it is for consumer goods. People tend to spend slightly longer than 2.6 seconds choosing a house or office building. However, the recent housebuilding boom is moving our sector nearer the realm of consumer goods. Housing is becoming more like choosing a car every day.

Opportunities within the construction sector to promote corporate brands are almost endless. The chance to sponsor the mushy peas at the latest “awards-for-useless-things” dinners abound, but do you get value for money? As Locog is trying to extract maximum value out of its brand, we try to promote our own organisation’s brand, so it means more than just a logo. That said, I can’t imagine hiring private detectives to track down fraudsters touting T-shirts with our logo on it.

Finally, for those who can’t remember the last World Cup sponsors, they were:Adidas, Budweiser, Avaya, Coca-Cola, Continental, T-Mobile, Emirates, Fuji Film, Gillette, Hyundai, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Philips, Toshiba and Yahoo.