From Our Committees

An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Protect IP: Sistema Plastics

Published: August 23, 2023


Kenneth D. Suzan Barnes & Thornburg LLP Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

The art of smart organization and strategic investment in IP is central to the story of Sistema® Plastics. With its origins in clothing hangers, this New Zealand-based company has evolved to manufacture drink bottles, lunch boxes, microwave products, and food storage containers. Through a network of authorized distributors, Sistema Plastics sells its products to millions of customers located in over 110 countries. Sistema Plastics manufactures its entire product line in New Zealand.

Throughout its growth trajectory, protecting its valuable intellectual property has remained a top priority. “There was always a desire to own rights in all of the markets in the world…no matter where it was,” said Glenn Beattie, Senior Specialist Intellectual Property for Sistema Plastics. The story of Sistema Plastics began in 1982 when Brendan Lindsay noticed that a local store was discarding used clothing hangers. He soon developed an interest in sorting discarded clothing hangers, including separating the broken from the unbroken ones, and selling the ones that remained functional. Operating from his garage, Lindsay started his own clothing hanger business and soon opened a warehouse to serve his expanding operations.

When asked if he could manufacture new plastic clothing hangers, he bought a machine to produce them. Then, while Lindsay was on a trip to the United States, Lindsay was approached to manufacture plastic drink bottles. Lindsay launched the DINKEE® plastic drink bottle for babies followed by other plastic drink bottles. Soon thereafter, in 1987, Lindsay started Sistema Plastics Limited, with its headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand. The rest is history. Over the years, his company continued to grow and expand into manufacturing a wide variety of useful products including food storage containers, lunch boxes, microwave products, and other storage products.

With this growth came an increased emphasis on protecting the company’s intellectual property through securing trademark registrations around the world, as well as through patent, design, and copyright protection. The company has developed a robust trademark registration portfolio that includes its house mark SISTEMA®, as well as KLIP IT®, KLIP IT +®, KLIP IT TO GO®, BAKE IT®, SNACK ATTACK®, ALWAYS REUSEFUL®, and several three-dimensional product configuration trademark registrations.

According to Kim McLeod, a Director with AJ Park IP Limited, in Auckland, New Zealand, and outside trademark counsel for Sistema Plastics, “Brendan was very switched on as to the value of IP to the business…. From day one Brendan recognized the value of IP both on the balance sheet and as a way of minimizing competition.” In selecting places to file trademark applications, Sistema Plastics looks to the locations of its main distributors and the places where its distributors sell. Sistema Plastics has relied upon the Madrid Protocol to obtain and maintain international trademark protection and has filed directly in countries where needed.

Sistema Plastics’ commitment to registering its intellectual property worldwide has helped the company with trademark enforcement efforts. Over the years, Beattie would regularly attend international trade shows and trade fairs. “He would walk the exhibition halls where all these manufacturers and traders from around the world pitched their wares and would hunt out anyone who was trying to offer SISTEMA lookalikes or in any way unfairly competing with Sistema Plastics, and would then involve local legal representation to take action on Sistema Plastics’ behalf”, explained McLeod. The company has sent numerous demand letters to infringers, and has engaged in litigation when needed, particularly in China, United States, European Union, and Africa.

Developing a strong portfolio of registered trademarks both in New Zealand and in other countries worldwide has also greatly helped Sistema Plastics work effectively with customs officials in stopping the flow of infringing products. They have had particular success in the European Union in working with local customs authorities. According to McLeod, “We would register the key SISTEMA rights with customs recordations.”  Sistema Plastics’ distributors also play an important role in stopping unauthorized and infringing products, including by regularly informing the company if they find unauthorized copies in their respective markets. In addition, the fact that their products are exclusively manufactured in New Zealand makes it easier to detect unauthorized and infringing products. If products are not part of the authorized network originating from local manufacture in New Zealand, the company knows that the unauthorized products are suspect. “We have been spectacularly successful over a long period of time in suppressing [the infringements]”, said McLeod.

The investment in intellectual property has certainly paid dividends, and McLeod summed it up best—“There is a clear connection between the value of the business and the value of the IP.”

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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