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Yo-yos, pogo sticks, slap-bands, Rubik’s cubes. All fads that enjoyed a short-lived peak of popularity before falling back into obscurity, replaced by the next flash-in-the-pan gadget or toy.


The latest fad to hit the market are fidgets-spinners, hand-held spinning devices that have become hugely popular with school kids over the last few months. So popular, in fact, that apparently large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys R Us are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Naturally, when a gadget like this appears to come out of nowhere, people often wonder who invented it. Numerous reports from credible news sources (such as the Guardian, and the New York Times) named Catherine Hettinger from Florida, USA as the inventor of the fidget-spinner. Reports also claimed that she surrendered the patent in 2005 because she couldn’t afford the renewal fee, and therefore saw no royalties from the immense sales that followed. Other sources stated that she had come up with idea for the toy after a visit to Israel in the 1980s, as a way to stop Palestinian boys from throwing rocks at police officers.

Turns out this was not entirely accurate. Articles in Bloomberg and the Globe and Mail have since pointed out that while Hettinger was happy to talk about her patent applications, implying that she had conceived of the device, further investigation has found that the patent she had failed to maintain was for a “spinning toy”, which was quite distinct from the fidget-spinner currently flying off the shelves. So it seems that she has no basis to claim to be the inventor. Even if the original patent she filed in 1993 (granted in 1997) was for an actual “fidget spinner”, it would have expired anyway, well before the current craze began.

So the true inventor of the fidget-spinner appears to be unknown, but likely enjoying a pretty comfortable life (much to the chagrin of parents and teachers worldwide).

Even if the story in this case is somewhat apocryphal, there is still a good lesson for inventors out there. It is vital to register your patents as soon as possible, and be sure to maintain them. Who knows, you could be sitting on a gadget goldmine.

For more information about patents, contact our Intellectual Property Group.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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