Globes are (or were) common when I was in US public school (late 80s-late 90s) but no one ever taught us about the distortions in map projections. I specifically remember because I was (and am) a huge map geek and learned all this myself.
But Zhang wasn't the only person to figure this out - George Church's group reported similar results at the same time. The patent office inexplicably decided not to get Church's testimony on the conflict.
It's also worth noting that Zhang was hardly the only person to be working on this - Church's group published a very similar article in the same issue of Science in 2013, and about a half-dozen groups were reaching similar conclusions at the same time, but they weren't as aggressive about filing patents.
New York... when civilization falls apart, remember, we were way ahead of you. - David Letterman