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Patenting the fidget spinner


15th Jun 2017

As the fidget spinner hype continues, the inventor of the fidget spinner must surely wake up each morning laughing. Children are putting aside their apps and video games to play with one of the simplest toys available. Patent rights to this invention would be worth a fortune – but has anyone come close to patenting the fidget spinner?

Accompanying the initial fidget spinner boom were several articles in the press with headlines such as “As fidget spinner craze goes global, its inventor struggles to make ends meet” (The Guardian), telling the story of how claimed inventor Catherine A. Hettinger patented the original fidget spinner back in 1993 but, unable to afford the renewal fees, let the patent lapse only to witness the boom of the toy years later.

As reported in a Bloomberg News article, when asked whether the scope of her patent would cover a fidget spinner, Ms. Hettinger replied:

“You’re going to have to call a patent attorney. This is way beyond me.”

Still hopeful of receiving said call, I did some preparation by reviewing her patent, US 5591062 A, entitled “Spinning Toy”.

Referring to the figure below taken from the patent, a “finger spinner” is disclosed comprising a “central finger placement area” (1) surrounded by a “skirt balance means” (2). The central finger placement area resembles a hollow dome whilst the skirt balance means resembles a largely-planar circular sheet of material. In use, a finger is placed in the open end of the hollow dome and the other hand is used to start the toy rotating. From there onwards, small rotations of the finger in the dome will keep the toy spinning. The central finger placement area is fixed to the skirt balance means, being moulded from the same sheet of plastic.

Fidget spinner patent figure

Figures 2 and 3 from Catherine A. Hettinger’s patent, US 5591062 A.

The patent does not appear immediately relevant to a fidget spinner. In order to evaluate whether the scope of the patent covers a fidget spinner, the broadest claim, independent claim 2, is reviewed:

  • In claim 2, the central finger placement area is said to be “unitized” with the skirt balance means and there is no discussion of a bearing between these two items. The bearing is a core feature of a fidget spinner, allowing for rotation of the device whilst the central finger placement area remains stationary. Would a bearing “unitize”? This could be argued.
  • The central finger placement area is described in claim 2 as an “essentially spherical dome”. This is not seen in a typical fidget spinner.
  • Also in claim 2, the skirt balance means is said to comprise “a circular outer edge” (see item 4 in the figure). This is also not seen in a typical fidget spinner.

Admittedly, the patent does begin by discussing a toy for people who “want to move or fidget”, however in response to Ms. Hettinger’s above-indented quote, unfortunately I would not suggest calling a patent attorney. Even if the patent were still in force, its scope does not appear to cover the vast majority of fidget spinners on the market today.

It seems that Ms. Hettinger, at least, has not come close to patenting the fidget spinner. Perhaps someone else has a better claim to the invention?

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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