Was the Inventor of the Fidget Spinner Robbed?

The current craze spinning into all our stores and schools may have a more twisting origin story than one might expect. While the fidget spinner only really came into popularity early this year, Catherine Hettinger invented what could be the earliest version of the toy, as far back as 1993.

The Origin of the Fidget Spinner

“Let’s just say that I’m claimed to be the inventor,” she said. “You know, ‘Wikipedia claims,’ or something like that.”

While Ms Hettinger downplays the invention, the US Patent and Trademark Office has a patent registered in her name from 1993 for:

“a toy device which includes a center dome structure and a skirt is used as a spinning toy. It is
designed to be spun on the finger to provide enjoyment and entertainment for adults and children”

 While fidget spinners have certainly become a whole lot more colourful today, and spin somewhat differently, her original design, now 24 years old, has surprising similarities to the popular toy sweeping the shelves since early this year.

A tinkerer with a variety of knick-knacks to her name, Ms Hettinger found it hard to sell her early version of the spinner in the 90s. In 1997, Ms Hettinger met with the vice-president of Hasbro in hopes of entering a deal for distribution, but he did not see the value in a simple toy that spins on a finger.

Ms Hettinger let her trade mark lapse in 2005 due to the toy’s unpopularity and the expense of maintaining the patent.

This year, Hasbro sells thousands of fidget spinners every week and toy outlets are faced with the arduous task of informing desperate parents that they are out of stock. 17 of the top 20 toys on amazon are fidget spinners as of May 31.

The importance of protecting your inventions, products, and trade marks can be no more starkly shown than through allowing a profitable patent to lapse. If Ms Hettinger had a valid patent over the fidget spinner today, she would have been able to obtain profits by way of licencing out the rights to her invention.

Noticing the new trend, Ms Hettinger has started a Kickstarter to raise funds for the sale of her own “original” version of the spinners. However, since her original patent was abandoned, she will never realise any profits she may have been entitled to, nor will she be able to continue her project if her new spinners infringe on any existing patents owned by other traders. In today’s rapidly changing economy, it has never been more important to maintain one’s intellectual property rights and invest in new protections to evolve as your products do.