The Origins of the Fidget Spinner Patent – a Cautionary Tale?

In 2017, the fidget spinner was one of the most popular toys around. Sales of it soared to the tens of millions and according to reports at this time, the original inventor didn’t receive a penny for her design. All because she couldn’t afford to renew the patent she held.

Catherine Hettinger is often credited as the original inventor of the fidget spinner after she came up with the toy as a way to entertain her then seven year old daughter in the 90s. Hettinger held the patent on finger spinners for eight years, but surrendered it in 2005 because she couldn’t afford the $400 renewal fee.

The palm-sized spinners consist of a ball bearing which sits in a three-pronged plastic device which can then be flicked and spun round.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2017, Hettinger accepts that had she been able to afford to keep the patent, she would now likely be sitting on a sizeable fortune. Instead, she struggled to make ends meet.

She filed a patent for her design in 1997 and was in talks with toy manufacturing giant Hasbro to commercially produce the fidget spinner. After testing the design, Hasbro decided not to proceed to production leaving Hettinger to let her patent lapse in 2005.

Some IP attorneys don’t agree that Hettinger’s design is exactly like the fidget spinners we know today. Some even say, had she held the patent and renewed the fee, it would have expired in 2017 anyway due to patent laws, leaving the patent free for others to use.

{This article here details the timeline of Hettinger’s patent and other fidget spinner designs that followed suit}

Hettinger isn’t the first inventor to miss out on making money from their invention. Other notable inventors include Tim Berners Lee, founder of the world wide web and Shane Chen, who invented the hoverboard. You can check out Chen’s story here.

Having an effective IP strategy in place is so important. A patent may be the way to go for your invention or another strategy might work even better. If you want to protect your Intellectual Property from the beginning, get in touch with our IP team here.