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Case study: Sistema thinking outside the box

Case study: Sistema thinking outside the box

Auckland-based food storage company Sistema Plastics is being purchased by US-based Newell Brands for $660 million (US$470 million). Best known for its reusable plastic food containers which snap shut via an interlocking system, Idealog is republishing this story about Sistema's containers and efforts to protect its IP.

Originally published 19 October, 2012:

Protecting its IP was essential for Kiwi company Sistema – and AJ Park was on hand to help.

Did you bring leftovers to work for lunch today? It’s likely you brought them in a Sistema Klip It container.

Sistema’s Kiwi-made design, the paragon of plastic food storage, has been keeping food fresh in school bags, pantries and lunchroom fridges for the past 30 years, and the privately owned company holds an 80 percent share of New Zealand’s food storage market.

Winning New Zealand Exporter of the Year in 2011 having experienced phenomenal global growth (80 percent growth over the past two years), Sistema general manager Glenn Beattie says it’s the New Zealand-made print on the bottom that makes all the difference.

“One of our major selling points overseas is that our products are made in New Zealand,” Beattie says. “The fact our products are made in New Zealand means they’re perceived as safer than, say, plastic products made in China.”

Today Sistema exports to 25 countries and occupies 44 percent of the Australian market.

Using BPA-free plastic has earned the brand the approval of the Food and Drug Administration in America, the penultimate tick for plastics manufacturers in the eyes of safety-conscious US consumers. Despite Sistema’s global reach, managing director Brendan Lindsay is known for his steadfast commitment to maintaining the company’s manufacturing in New Zealand.

Sistema has collaborated with global enterprises, including creating a range for US lifestyle media magnate Martha Stewart’s brand. The deal saw Klip It systems stocked in Macy’s stores across the US and Canada and used in all US military bases. With its IP lurking in kitchen cupboards worldwide, Sistema has a strong need for intellectual property protection.

“We protect our products globally,” Beattie says. “For example, the uniqueness of the [touch-free sipper] bottle top is patented almost worldwide.”

That’s where AJ Park fits in – it has been identifying, protecting, commercialising and enforcing Sistema’s unique IP rights since the late 1990s. Partner Kim McLeod says he recognises managing director Lindsay for his passion for New Zealand and his business, beginning in his garage as a backyard investor selling recycled coat hangers.

Today McLeod and his team work with Sistema across the whole gamut of IP rights, covering patent protection for their innovation, registered design protection and in particular, trademark protection.

“We help them protect their brands and innovation internationally,” says McLeod. “We also take action to prevent people from copying their products.”

AJ Park and Sistema met through court action.

“Originally we took action against Sistema for another company,” explains McLeod. “We made quite an impression with Lindsay, and he decided he’d rather have us on his side than working against him. That’s really the best kind of referral you can get.”

Beattie says today he sees the manufacturer’s relationship with AJ Park as a partnership.

In fact, if you ask him what the firm does for his business, his response is a clear vote of trust: “We just give everything to Kim and together we work out what to do.”

The long-running partnership has resulted in Sistema putting full confidence in McLeod and the AJ Park team. These days, AJ Park associate Narly Kalupahana is on a part-time secondment at Sistema, which McLeod describes as “AJ Park’s satellite office at Sistema”.

Between the secondment and McLeod’s regular contact, the partners liaise with Sistema’s R&D team to discuss their latest innovations and what is required to protect it.

“You don’t want to commercialise a product until it is properly protected,” says McLeod.

Proactively involved in the client’s business, McLeod’s services go beyond strictly litigation. “Last year we worked with Sistema at some length defining and refining their core Sistema
brand and realigned that with the business’ core IP strategy. The realisation is that if you’re successful and the market leader, people will want to copy you.”

Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and with cheap knock-offs a familiar site on the trade show circuit, infringements of Sistema’s IP rights, while unwelcome, are manageable occurrences.

“It’s important to have the right arsenal of IP rights to stop them, and AJ Park makes sure Sistema does,” Beattie says.

In brief
Sistema food storage containers are recognisable for their blue Klip It clips. With intellectual property specialists AJ Park on its side, Sistema has been able to secure international protection for its world beating products, leaving the team to focus on global growth.