On a plane trip four years ago, a seatmate told John Burton Tigrett about a new toy. It was simply a roll of paper on a stick. With a flick of the wrist the paper coil would shoot five feet into the air and snap back into position. Tigrett, an easygoing Southerner who had long made a hobby of buying up patents, tracked down the inventor, bought his patent for $100 plus royalties, and started producing the gadget in a small Chicago shop. Since then, 38-year-old John Tigrett has sold 15 million "Zoomerangs,"...

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