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The Full Version

Part 1 - The Beginning

   I love playing billiards.​ Growing up in East Germany in the 70s, I cannot exactly recall when I was first exposed to this great game. I don’t even have a recollection of any friends or families during those years who owned a billiard table. Most people lived in apartments or houses that didn’t have a space large enough to hold one. A few years after the wall came down I was a college student in Dresden. I decided to apply for an exchange year in the United States. Not exactly knowing what I got into, I ended up going to beautiful West Virginia, pursuing my engineering studies, and getting a part-time job in my residence hall. That job involved looking over a game room that contained a Ping Pong table, a TV set, and a Billiard table. It was a hangout space for students, but at times it was deserted and while making $4.25 an hour I had plenty of idle time to play pool. First I played a little, then I played a lot and eventually, I played every free minute of my day. Life was good.

   After my year in West Virginia came to an end I returned to Germany, graduated from college, married my girlfriend, got a job with an American company, and had children. Life had become busy and playing pool was a thing of my past. That did not even change when I moved back to the States in 2002. 

Between my job, raising our 3 children with my wife, coaching soccer, and traveling around the world the days simply didn’t have enough hours.

   But one thing had changed: I now lived in a house much bigger than the one I had grown up in and in a neighborhood where plenty of people had a billiard table in their homes. My memory fails to recall when exactly I started looking into getting a pool table of my own when I learned about the fabulous idea of combining a pool table with a dining top or what I must have done to convince my dear wife that we should own such a table. However, I do recall that in 2015 on my birthday my wife took me to a store in West Chester, Ohio that sells billiard tables. We had a pleasant conversation with the owner and walked out after having placed an order for a brand-new model of a contemporary billiard table with a dining top. After several months of waiting the table was finally delivered in the summer of 2016 and set up in our living room.

   We started playing and enjoyed the table a lot until one day when my wife asked me to convert the table in preparation for a dinner with friends. This is when we started noticing the imperfections of the model we had selected: The table top segments were heavy - 27lbs to be precise for each of the 4 segments that formed the table top - and carrying them along with a bunch of chairs took multiple trips to their storage location in our basement. It also required help from my son to lay the tabletop segments carefully onto the table to avoid scratching the playing surface. Shortly after we noticed that a pool table is a bit higher than a regular dining table and that using standard-height dining chairs with the pool table felt not quite right. Who would have thought that 4 inches can make such a difference? Despite sitting on chairs that were too low, we enjoyed our dinner with friends, and we converted the table the same night one more time to return to playing more billiards.

Part 2 - Understanding the Problem is Half the Solution

   Following this first billiard table conversion experience I was bothered that I had not researched in more detail before buying and that I had overlooked these little details that now became nuisances that would now stick with me and my family for a long time. However, being an engineer I like solving problems and I decided to build some custom-height benches that could address at least part of the inconvenience.

   I designed some benches with foldable legs that could be stored “out-of-sight” under the table when it is in billiard playing position and that could be easily set up when the table is used as a dining table. I also added 4 inches in height to the benches to match the seating height for the taller table height. After some days of fun in woodworking and upholstering the benches were done and I was proud of my accomplishment. But my state of content did not last long. While sitting on the taller benches did address the issue of the taller tabletop, my thighs were wedged between the bench and the underside of the table. The tabletop measured about 7 inches from the dining surface to the underside, much more than any regular dining table. Hence getting to the perfect seating height on such a table was impossible without limiting thigh space. Unwillingly I trimmed the legs of the benches by a couple of inches to split the difference and found a bearable compromise for comfortable seating between having benches tall enough for the table and low enough to preserve sufficient space for my thighs.

With the realization that my conversion-top dining pool table would always remain a compromised design, I started more thorough research for other models. ​

​   I was curious to see if someone had thought this whole thing through and gotten it right. Was the perfect design already out there? I was looking if there was a convertible pool table design that met 3 specific criteria:​

  1. The table should convert with ease from playing to dining position. Tabletop segments should remain attached to the table and pivot easily between playing and dining positions, such that a single person could move them with little effort in a matter of seconds. Much like opening a door and less like going camping and having to set up a tent. 

  2. The table should be sold with seating (chairs or benches) that matched the design, had the proper heights, and would not compromise on the comfort of seating. The seating should be stored under the table, preferably “out-of-sight”, but more importantly “out-of-the-way” when playing pool and without needing to carry it to a separate storage location.

  3. The design of the table should be contemporary: Simple, but elegant. Many pool tables are hidden in basements of houses and may remind you of what you expect to find in a bar with looks ranging from industrial to rustic. A convertible dining pool table instead should be a beautiful centerpiece for a living room.

   After weeks of online searching, I learned a lot. While there were lots of options for convertible dining billiard tables, none of them came even close to meeting the 3 criteria I had established. Most good-looking contemporary tables came without matching seating. Most seating options were basic benches, definitely not comfortable. Table tops for most models are the basic style with detached lift-off segments that are heavy and difficult to move. Only very few models were available with pivoting tabletop segments, and those that existed looked like awkward boxes in the pool-playing position with the tabletop segments dangling down at the sides of the table. There simply wasn’t a good design available that checked all my boxes.

   This sparked my ambition to design a better transformable dining pool table. Following some months of thinking and sketching I had come up with some ideas and concepts that I considered viable candidates to pursue further. But how? Building such a table would require detailed engineering, industrial design, and finding possible fabrication and distribution partners. I decided to proceed step-by-step. This was a hobby – not a race.  

Part 3 - You can get it if you Really Want it

(My USPTO Adventure)

   When one understands a problem and comes up with an idea for a solution to the problem, how can the idea be shared with those who know how to build or sell the novel article, without running the risk that the idea simply gets stolen? This is where the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has its place. If you have any ambition to commercialize your presumably novel idea, you have to file a patent. And you have to be careful talking to people about your idea before filing the patent because you cannot unask a question. 

   There are plenty of professional patent attorneys who will gladly listen to your idea, search if the idea can be considered novel, and file on your behalf a patent application at the USPTO. The only drawback is that this isn’t exactly a cheap thing to do. You will have to invest thousands of Dollars at a time when you may not be certain if the idea is novel and will be awarded a patent grant if the idea will ever come to life, and if doing so will possibly earn more money than this upfront investment.

   I was in a unique situation. Being an engineer at my daytime job I had filed numerous patents with the help of professional patent attorneys. For the inventor the process of filing a patent is quite simple. You have an idea, write an invention summary, add a few sketches and the attorney will handle the rest for you. Since I wasn’t up to buying this service for my hobby project, I decided to try filing a patent myself. And what a journey it was. 

   I started by buying the book “Patent it yourself”. Over 600 pages of boring fine print about the do’s and don’ts of patent filing. I would have probably done better had I read it with more attention, but instead, I opted for the “learning by doing” route. I went online and became a registered user of the Electronic Filing System (EFS) of the USPTO. This process required a fax machine, which made me wonder why the government agency in charge of protecting the nation's technical advancements in the form of patents was counting on the technology of the past century in their daily operations. Little did I know about the EFS. The complete lack of intuitiveness and the amount of software bugs hidden in the ESF web page made it appear as if it was a product that Russian hackers had left behind in a cyberattack. In the spring of 2020, I managed to submit a provisional patent application.

   This was the real start of my ordeal with the USPTO and their Electronic Filing System. I was determined to follow through and must have made about every mistake that one could make along the way. Formal mistakes like not numbering my patent drawings according to the USPTO rules, claiming too broadly, and being confronted with lots of prior inventions of convertible pool tables including one from 1874, violating the norms of proper claim language on numerous occasions, and other mistakes resulted in 4 consecutive office actions and eventually the learning that a “request for continued examination” costs extra fees. Patent examiners don’t work for free. This brings me to the highlight of my experience with USPTO. My examiner was sincerely kind, always helpful, and the most patient person one can imagine. 

    We started having something like a friendly relationship, with lots of phone calls and something new I learned in every interaction with her. I can’t thank her enough, because more than once did I question my choice of “Patent it Yourself.” In September of 2023 I finally received a “Notice of Allowance” indicating that the patent application was about to be granted, only to learn that I had made a few more mistakes that had to be corrected first. The most peculiar one was the rejected “Power of attorney” form that I had submitted to act on behalf of my son who was a co-inventor on the patent. I now know that the USPTO also requires a “Power of attorney” for yourself to handle your application properly. Who would have thought? 

   This happened to be the last stumbling block with the USPTO. On December 19, 2023, US patent 11844999 titled “Billiard Table with Dining Table Conversion-top” was granted.

Part 4 - The Making of TREBLE

While the little detour of patent filing was a unique educational experience, the patent was only a little piece of the puzzle. The provisional patent gave me peace of mind to share my ideas with others. After all, my TREBLE journey was one of building something real. A billiard table made of solid slate covered with felt, surrounded by panels of wood, and held together by hinges and screws. A journey that I needed help with. 

   This initial work had started with pencil sketches, but quickly moved on to involving family and friends. They helped to solve technical challenges, create 3D models, ideate, co-invent, set up a web page, register an LLC, start researching companies that could become possible manufacturing partners, and provide much-needed feedback to my designs. I vividly recall the comment “This design reminds me of a cheap plastic folding table”…and eventually resulted in a partnership with a great industrial design firm that helped me to move from simple sketches to full 3D models and visualization of the ideas with a fancy rendered animation. Finally, we had a family vote on naming the table and after careful consideration, TREBLE (short for Transformable Entertaining Tables) was born.

   Only the search for a manufacturing partner remained difficult. Thanks to the pandemic the few remaining American Billiard table fabricators were selling tables in record numbers as people had to stay home. Some showed interest in the design, but ultimately everyone was busy selling the table designs that they had made for years. I got many positive comments about the practicality of the design, and several comments along the lines of “we can sell it when you can find a fabricator” … but the search took longer than anticipated until one day when I asked an Italian friend of mine to call the company MBM Biliardi. I learned about MBM when I searched the Internet for custom billiard table designs and was impressed with the breadth of their catalog and the creativity of some of their designs. However, getting an Italian company to respond to an English email inquiry resulted almost naturally in a no response. Having my Italian friend call them up, and getting lucky to have the phone picked up by the owner of the company, made all the difference.

   Mariano Maggio started his own billiard table company MBM in his early 20’s and dedicated the next 50+ years ago to pursue his dream. He took one look at the video animation of TREBLE and he knew exactly that this design was special. Enough for him to want to invest his own money to build the first functional prototypes. Later the execution was perfected, and the first TREBLE was produced in the Fall of 2023. It was a little nerve-wracking to know it was being built without me being able to visit and input directly, but observing the progress through email and picture updates was enough to make me want to order the first table without having seen it firsthand. 

Part 5 - The Arrival of TREBLE

When you are embarking on a “first-of-its-kind” journey you have no idea what interesting and unusual things you may learn on the way. On our TREBLE journey that included discussing the PRO and CONS of one-piece vs 3-piece slate, how to package a billiard table properly for ocean shipment, completing import paperwork for a billiard table from Italy to the USA, finding an installer willing to set up a new table without seeing it before to name just a few. In January 2024 the table was finally picked up at MBM and after some weeks of ocean shipment and a few phone calls to get customs clearance the first ever TREBLE finally arrived in our house in Cincinnati in March of 2024. Installation to just over 3 hours with 2 great installers from Accu-Level Billiards. 

   Seeing the final product for the first time in our living room was a stunning experience. It looked absolutely beautiful and was very easy to convert - from dining position to playing position in under 1 minute! 

   For 2 of the 3 criteria that I had set at the beginning, my expectations were simply exceeded… yet the table still lacked the perfect seating option. But I had a plan. The Vancouver-based company Expand Furniture had just what I needed. A very compact, contemporary, and comfortable folding chair, delivered in custom height to match my table. I ordered 12 of them, and while waiting for the delivery to ship I made plans to modify the base of the table to create a pull-out storage compartment inside the foot of the table. The chairs will be hidden and out of the way when playing billiards and will be easy to erect when using the dining table. I can’t wait to see the final product. 

Part 6 - The Final Chapter

   Not quite. The journey continues as we are seeking distribution partners for TREBLE in North America and of course, thinking about the next projects. Future TREBLE Projects are planned that combine Dining Tables with other conversions for Dungeons & Dragons, Ping Pong, and Lego. 

Stay tuned - more to come. 

Uwe Schneider

Founder of JRTUPS LLC.

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