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Three IP lessons from the fidget spinner

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Published Date: June 19, 2017

With the fidget spinner craze taking over playgrounds and offices around the world, we were interested in learning from the Guardian that the inventor of the fidget spinner, Catherine Hettinger, barely made a dime from her invention.

While Ms Hettinger held a US patent for the invention from 1997 to 2005, she abandoned it after she could not afford the renewal fees.

What are the IP lessons we can learn from the fidget spinner?

1. Every IP registration needs a commercialisation strategy

Our clients regularly come and see us with their innovative ideas and ambitious business plans with the motivation to protect their business by registering patents, designs or trade marks. Securing an IP registration is only the first step, and there are many more steps that need to follow before building a successful business.

An analogy we like to use is that your IP registration is really your “ticket to the game”: it gives you a right to trade your product or service and can act as an obstacle to other competitors. But you still need to actually make your way to the stadium on match day and play the game!

In Ms Hettinger’s case, she made a great first step by registering a patent in the world’s biggest economy, the USA. However, a patent is not worth the paper it is written on if you don’t have a strategy for commercialising your product.

2. Why are we talking about a fidget spinner and not The Fidget Spinner™?

Although your product may be patentable, many are not. Building a powerful brand for your product or service is an opportunity that every single business has.

If you think of the global clothing brands – Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Puma etc. – none of them have re-invented the wheel, so to speak. They have become world famous brands through a combination of delivering high-quality products and excellent marketing.

As the original creator of the fidget spinner, Ms Hettinger had the opportunity of being first-to-market. This is the type of advantage a brand needs to take full advantage of to establish itself as the foremost brand in that market.

If The Fidget Spinner was a registered trade mark and was suitably protected, all other proprietors would have to call their products something else in the market place and Ms Hettinger would have the exclusive rights to the trade mark, The Fidget Spinner. We see this as an opportunity lost.

3. The value of a strong commercial partner  

Ms Hettinger lamented the fact that a deal fell through with a major distributor which is why she never got her product to the market. Having the right commercial partners can either make or break your business.

Your commercial partners can come in a number of forms: Your business may require:

  • a funding partner in the form of a venture capital fund to attract the finances to get your business off the ground;
  • a technical partner with the necessary expertise to design/create your product;
  • a distribution partner to take your product to market;
  • a marketing or public relations partner to develop your brand identity and communication; and/or
  • a legal partner to provide you with sound legal advice and assistance drafting agreements with your suppliers and commercial partner.

Hindsight is said to be 20/20 and maybe Ms Hettinger was just not at the right place at the right time; it was the 1990s and everyone may have just been too busy playing with their Yo-Yos. It’s difficult to say from the start how something as simple as the fidget spinner can become the global craze that it has. But after borrowing my boss’ fidget spinner for the morning: I want one!

Disclaimer: We have read articles that claim Ms Hettinger’s once-patented “spinning toy” only slightly resembles the fidget spinner currently in the market which we have chosen to ignore. 

by Nic Rosslee

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