Soft Rocks and Bright Ideas: How the Fidget Spinner Came to Be

Start Ups Tags: Fidget Spinner, Intellectual Property, Patent Research

When there’s a problem, innovators seek solutions. That’s the blueprint for many great inventions—and that’s exactly what Catherine Hettinger did when she created the fidget spinner. If you don’t have a fidget spinner, don’t sweat it. At least one person in your office does and they’d be happy to let you try it.

While visiting her sister in Israel, Hettinger came up with the concept of a fidget spinner when she heard about little boys throwing rocks at people and police. She imagined a toy that would help distract the children and release their aggression. She first thought about soft rocks, but scrapped the idea and imagined the spinner instead. Catherine has said, “It started as a way of promoting peace, and then I went on to find something that was very calming.”

Hettinger kept the toy in her imagination during the 1980s until the first fidget spinner debuted in 1993. Fours year later, her patent was approved. Initially, it was not a success. Catherine took her invention to fairs, selling a couple of thousand devices, and often knocked on doors of toy companies. In 1997, she set up a meeting with the vice president of Hasbro, the third-largest toymaker in the world. It seemed like the stars had finally aligned.

After testing the fidget spinner on consumers, Hasbro passed on the toy and sent Catherine a rejection letter. Twenty years have passed. Now, the fidget spinner is one of the hottest toys on the market. Chains like Toys ‘R’ Us and Walmart have a hard time keeping them on shelves and the spinners hold 17 spots on Amazon’s top-selling-toys list.

Unfortunately, Catherine failed to pay maintenance fees for her patent and it expired January 7, 2005. If she had paid the fee, she would have had coverage until 2014. Now, however, companies like Hasbro can sell their own version of the fidget spinner.  Utilizing patent search software like InnovationQ, uncovers opportunities and helps clarify decisions around IP strategies—sell the patent, license the patent, or create a product and sell it.

Even though Hettinger isn’t reaping the benefits and capitalization of her original version of the fidget spinner, she doesn’t seem too upset. As any great thinker would do, Hettinger still uses the same innovators’ blueprint—thinking of ways to invent the next best thing to make people’s lives easier. She’s now working on a new diet and fitness app for the iPhone with help from the Inventors Council of Central Florida. She’s a member of the group and they work on new ideas together. And, she is keenly aware of tools to help her identify competitors, licensing opportunities and prior art.