The Fidget Spinner Myth, Debunked - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The Fidget Spinner Myth, Debunked

The Fidget Spinner Myth, Debunked

In February of 1992, Catherine Hettinger filed a patent application for her spinning toy on May 28, 1993, which issued on January 1, 1997.1 Specifically, the patent application was directed to a  toy that was to be “spun on the finger for the amusement of children and adults.”2 The concept, for all intents and purposes, was the fidget spinner. The patent issued just 20 years shy of becoming an absolute sensation. 3

In the last six months, as the fidget spinner craze swept the nation, articles have been popping up all over news outlets about how Catherine Hettinger is making no money from her fidget spinner patent. In May 2017, Hettinger’s story was covered by the New York Post;4 the Miami Herald wrote a similar article that same month.5 While sources like the New York Times6 and Wikipedia7 consider Hettinger the fidget spinner inventor, it’s a myth. In fact, Hettinger’s patent would never have covered today’s fidget spinner.

In 2005, Hettinger’s patent lapsed because she did not pay the maintenance fees for her patent. Hettinger explained that once Hasbro ended discussions to produce the toy, she was forced to let the patent lapse due to her lack of funds.8 In an interview with the Guardian, Hettinger said “I just didn’t have the money. It’s very simple.”9

Even if Hettinger paid the required maintenance fee to prevent her patent from lapsing, the patent would have expired by the time fidget spinners gained popularity. Under U.S. Patent Law, a patent term for applications filed before 1995 have a term of 17 years from the date of issue or 20 years from the earliest effective filing date, whichever is longer. Therefore, Hettinger’s “Spinning toy” patent would have expired in 2014. The fidget spinner did not become popular until 2017.10

Finally, even if Hettinger had not let the patent lapse and even if the patent’s claims had not expired, today’s fidget-spinner would not infringe the claims of Hettinger’s patent. A key element of Hettinger’s “spinning toy” is the “essentially spherical dome” for use as a “balance…providing a mass to balance said finger spinner to aid a user in keeping a finger in a stable spinning spot under said thin walled essentially spherical dome.”11 This “spherical dome” is the “most preferred embodiment of the novel spinning toy.”12 The current most popular model of the fidget spinner does not have a spherical dome. Rather, the spinner has a ball-bearing center and the structure is entirely flat.13

In essence, Bloomberg Technology explained it best when they said the fidget spinner story has “spun out of control.”14

  1. Spinning toy, U.S. Patent No. 5,591,062.

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. Joshua Rett Miller, Woman Who Invented Fidget Spinner Isn’t Getting Squat, N.Y. Post, May 5, 2017, [].

  5. Elizabeth Koh, The Woman Who Invented The Fidget Spinner Isn’t Making a Dime Off Their Huge Profits, Miami Herald, May 4, 2017, [].

  6. Alex Williams, How Fidget Spinner Became the Hula Hoop For Generation Z, N.Y. Times, May 6, 2017, [].

  7. Fidget Spinner, Wikipedia, [].

  8. Williams, supra note 6.

  9. Richard Luscombe, As the Fidget Spinner Craze Goes Global, Its Founder struggles to Make Ends Meet. The Guardian, May 03, 2017, [].

  10. Williams, supra note 6.

  11. Spinning toy, U.S. Patent No. 5,591,062 (filed May 28, 1993) (issued Jan. 01, 1997).

  12. Id.

  13. Daniel M. Jones, History of the Fidget Spinner, The Huffington Post, Aug. 18, 2017, spinner_us_5997512be4b033e0fbdec3f4 [].

  14. Joshua Braunstein, How the Fidget Spinner Origin Story Spun Out of Control, Bloomberg L.P., May 11, 2017, [].

Shira Baratz

Shira Baratz is second year law student at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal.