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So he took out his slide rule and calculated. And calculated. By factoring in such things as the properties of high-modulus graphite, Kuebler whittled the width of the racket's throat down from 60 millimeters to 45 and eventually to 38, which is twice as wide as the throat on a conventional wood or graphite frame. He built a wood model and showed it to Head Sports in Kennelbach, Austria.
It's too big, the Head man said, too unwieldy. Naturally, rejection only increased Kuebler's resolve. He began cranking out prototypes in a little factory in Singen. The first 50 were too brittle; they broke. Kuebler tinkered tirelessly. Finally he produced the R-50. "I decided to make it white to make it look real big," says Kuebler. "People went crazy about that white color. Everyone wanted that big white racket."
When it was introduced in West Germany in 1985, the R-50 sold for $300. Included with every purchase was a $10 copy of Und Dann? Nobody would publish his stringed rhapsody, so he had paid a vanity press to print 5,000 copies. "I didn't think my invention was so special, but my novel was," says Kuebler. "If anyone had given me $10 for the book, I would have given him a racket for free."
Kuebler & Co. produces 20,000 rackets a year. Limited manufacturing and distribution capacity might have reduced das Original to nothing more than a conversation piece among German club players if Wilson hadn't bought into the idea and secured the rights to Kuebler's widebody patent, leading to the introduction of the Profile in late '87. Kuebler's deal with Wilson allows him to sell his Resonanz line of rackets in Germany.
He licensed another patented innovation—a nodal weighting system that redistributes a racket's sweet spot—to Head for its widebodies. In a sort of Kuebler v. Kuebler courtroom drama, Wilson went after Head in early 1990 for poaching on Kuebler's widebody patent in its nodal-designed Genesis racket. Under a settlement reached that summer, Head allows Wilson to incorporate Kuebler's nodals into Wilson's third generation of Profiles.
No doubt the royalties have made Kuebler rich, but he claims most of his take has been taken by taxes and legal fees. From the start there were cases of what he thought was the most arrant infringement. "A patent is supposed to honor an inventor by protecting his invention for 18 years," says Kuebler. "All it really means is that you obtain the right to take your copycats to court. First you invent, then you must fight for your invention. That starts on the first day and doesn't stop until the end of the 18th year."
He seems sober more than depressed, and puzzled more than defeated in trying to come to grips with the vagaries of an industry he thought he understood. To keep the market churning, says Kuebler, racket manufacturers are constantly promoting small refinements as though they were revolutionary advances. "Improvements haven't been that dramatic," he says, "but people want something new, new, new."
Kuebler thinks that racket companies should follow the example of Luvs, which jacked up sales by pushing separate diapers for girls and boys. "They could put out one racket for singles and another for doubles," he says. "With that little trick they could double the market."