Une in­ven­trice qui peine à joindre les deux bouts

Vocable (Anglais) - - La Une - THE GUARDIAN

Il y a eu la tou­pie, il y a eu les scou­bi­dous, puis les yoyos, les cartes Po­ke­mon, les rain­bow looms… un nou­vel ob­jet a en­va­hi les cours de ré­créa­tion aux Etats-Unis, au Royaume-Uni et main­te­nant en France, c’est le fidget spinner ! Cette nou­velle sorte de tou­pie, ré­gu­liè­re­ment en rup­ture de stock, est le fruit de l’ima­gi­na­tion d’une Amé­ri­caine dont vous al­lez dé­cou­vrir ici la sur­pre­nante his­toire…

As the inventor of the ori­gi­nal fidget spinner – the ubi­qui­tous new toy that has qui­ck­ly be­come a craze in play­grounds around the world – Ca­the­rine Het­tin­ger should be en­joying the high life. But the Flo­ri­da-ba­sed crea­tor is not ma­king a pen­ny off her ge­nius invention, even as glo­bal sales of the gad­get she en­vi­sio­ned two de­cades ago as a way to en­ter­tain her se­ven-year-old daugh­ter soar in­to the tens of mil­lions and sup­pliers struggle to meet mas­sive de­mand. Het­tin­ger held the pa­tent on fin­ger spin­ners for eight years, but sur­ren­de­red it in 2005 be­cause she could not af­ford the $400 re­ne­wal fee. “I just didn’t have the mo­ney. It’s ve­ry simple,” she said. 2.The palm-si­zed spin­ners consist of a ball bea­ring which sits in a th­ree-pron­ged plas­tic de­vice which can then be fli­cked and spun round. Now, while the ma­nu­fac­tu­rers and re­tai­lers who are sel­ling the mo­dern-day ver­sions of the toy rack up huge pro­fits, Het­tin­ger, 62, is down­si­zing from her ti­ny house to a chea­per con­do, won­de­ring whe­ther to get her dis­con­nec­ted te­le­phone line reins­ta­ted, and fi­gu­ring out how to af­ford “a car that tru­ly works”.

3.“It’s chal­len­ging, being an inventor,” she told the Guardian du­ring a cof­fee-shop in­ter­view near her home in Win­ter Park, a his­to­ric sub­ur­ban city just east of Or­lan­do. “On­ly about 3% of in­ven­tions make any mo­ney. I’ve wat­ched other in­ven­tors mort­gage their houses and lose a lot. You take room­mates, you get help from friends and fa­mi­ly. It is hard.”

4.Het­tin­ger ac­cepts that had she been able to af­ford to keep the pa­tent, she would now li­ke­ly be sit­ting on a si­zeable for­tune. “I wouldn’t have any pro­blem. That would have been good,” she said.


5. But while she joins a no­table list of others who by ac­ci­dent or de­si­gn fai­led to cash in per­so­nal­ly on their world-chan­ging crea­tions, Het­tin­ger in­sists that she is not bit­ter over the lost op­por­tu­ni­ty, and is ins­tead “en­cou­ra­ged” by the spin­ners’ sud­den po­pu­la­ri­ty. “Se­ve­ral people

as­ked me: ‘Aren’t you real­ly mad?’ But for me I’m just plea­sed that so­me­thing I de­si­gned is so­me­thing that people un­ders­tand and real­ly works for them,” she said.

6.“There’s just a lot of cir­cum­stances in mo­dern life when you’re boxed in, you’re cram­ped in, and we need this kind of thing to de-stress. It’s al­so fun. That’s the thing about culture, once eve­ry­bo­dy starts doing it, it’s kind of OK.”

7.Her views are not sha­red by in­crea­sing num­bers of schools in the US and the UK, who are ban­ning chil­dren from brin­ging or using the spin­ners be­cause they are seen as a dis­trac­tion. But Het­tin­ger said she was plea­sed that in other cir­cum­stances, schools were fin­ding the de­vices help­ful. “I know a spe­cial needs tea­cher who used it with au­tis­tic kids, and it real­ly hel­ped to calm them down,” she said.


Ca­the­rine Het­tin­ger

8. Het­tin­ger says the ori­gins of the spinner lie in “one hor­rible sum­mer” back in the ear­ly 1990s when she was suf­fe­ring from my­as­the­nia gra­vis, an au­toim­mune di­sor­der that causes muscle weak­ness, and was al­so ca­ring for her daugh­ter Sa­ra, now 30. “I couldn’t pick up her toys or play with her much at all, so I star­ted thro­wing things to­ge­ther with news­pa­per and tape then other stuff,” she said. “It wasn’t real­ly even pro­to­ty­ping, it was some sem­blance of so­me­thing, she’d start playing with it in a dif­ferent way, I’d re­pur­pose it.”

9. Af­ter se­ve­ral re­de­si­gns, a ba­sic, non-me­cha­ni­cal ver­sion of the spinner was born. “We kind of co-invented it – she could spin it and I could spin it, and that’s how it was de­si­gned,” she ad­ded.

10.Het­tin­ger, who spent her child­hood in Tul­sa, Ok­la­ho­ma, spent the next few years ex­hi­bi­ting and sel­ling up­gra­ded ver­sions of her de­si­gn at arts and craft fairs around Flo­ri­da. “The pro­ject was great, I es­sen­tial­ly broke even, I sold units and tes­ted it with a couple of thou­sand people,” she said. She al­so flew with her daugh­ter to Wa­shing­ton DC for an ap­point­ment with the US pa­tent and tra­de­mark of­fice and se­cu­red a pa­tent on her de­si­gn in 1997.

11.But just when it loo­ked like her ori­gi­nal spinner was on track for wi­der com­mer­cial suc­cess, Het­tin­ger was hit by a di­sap­point­ment. The toy ma­nu­fac­tu­ring giant Has­bro, who had been tes­ting the de­si­gn, de­ci­ded not to pro­ceed to pro­duc­tion – ef­fec­ti­ve­ly lea­ving the pro­ject to wi­ther and even­tual­ly die with the lapse of the pa­tent in 2005. “I’m a te­chie, I’m not a per­son who closes mul­ti­mil­lion­have dol­lar deals,” Het­tin­ger said. “If there had been mo­ney or I’d had a ven­ture ca­pi­ta­list back then, it would have been dif­ferent.”


12. Un­de­ter­red, Het­tin­ger is cur­rent­ly wor­king contract en­gi­nee­ring jobs to earn in­come while hel­ping ad­vise others at mee­tings of the in­ven­tors coun­cil of cen­tral Flo­ri­da, and al­so has plans to ma­nu­fac­ture and sell her ori­gi­nal spinner de­si­gn if a Kicks­tar­ter ap­peal can raise en­ough funds. It is not quite how things could have tur­ned out had she re­tai­ned the fidget spinner pa­tent and se­cu­red her fi­nan­cial fu­ture, but Het­tin­ger in­sists she has on­ly one re­gret: “I would pro­ba­bly be doing more in­ven­ting,” she said.

“I just didn’t have the mo­ney.”

(Athe­na Pic­ture/Shut­ters/SIPA)

Spin­ning round and round.

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