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With a name seemingly destined for baseball immortality, Norwalk, Conn., intellectual property specialist Greg Battersby doesn’t just help technically savvy entrepreneurs cash in on their ideas. Battersby has a nuts-and-bolts baby of his own: a baseball pitching simulator that he believes will change the sport forever. It’s a labor of love rooted in a father’s desire to make his son a better high school baseball player. A partner at the IP boutique Grimes & Battersby, he came up with the concept for the ProBatter professional pitching simulator back in the mid-1990s along with his law partner Charles Grimes. Battersby, a former high school catcher, and his son, Adam, were using a pitching machine in the backyard of their Westport home. Adam could hit the machine’s fastball, basically its only pitch, but had trouble connecting with the ball when he went to the plate in actual games. Using his IP skills, Battersby researched the issue and found roughly 100 patents for multipitch pitching machines. Only 10 had been manufactured. Battersby came up with a new design — a machine that hurled pitches interchangeably from a video screen showing a real pitcher delivering fastballs, curveballs, sliders and other various pitches. Battersby and Grimes brought the idea to engineers, videographers and computer programmers. Together, they carried the dream to fruition. By the summer of 1999, they had a viable test product that featured video shots of different pitchers. Former Boston Red Sox coach Joe Morgan observed the machine in its early days and made recommendations that were incorporated into later models. BLIND LUCK By the end of 1999, their product was ready to be introduced at the Winter Major League Baseball meeting. Battersby and Grimes’ newly formed ProBatter Sports LLC sponsored an opening-night cocktail party. An air freight company that transported the machine from Connecticut to Anaheim, Calif., for the event gave it a good knocking around, dropping it off a loading dock three days before the cocktail party. It took around-the-clock repairs to get the machine back in shape. It was 30 minutes into the cocktail party before Battersby and Grimes could unveil their invention. But instead of becoming impatient, attendees praised the marketing genius of keeping the pitching simulator shrouded while anticipation built. “It was dumb blind luck,” Battersby said. By that point, more than $1 million was invested in the product. The law partners found an additional investor, and the machines hit the market by the end of 2000. Initially, the professional version cost $95,000. Technological advances have since brought the price down to $75,000. “Inventing the product was a piece of cake. Developing the market [for it] was the hard part,” Battersby said during a recent interview at his office, which is adorned to reflect Battersby’s diverse clientele. A huge stuffed teddy bear sits in one corner, while a bat and others sports equipment are tucked in another. One advantage Battersby has as an IP attorney is the foresight to legally protect his product. Often, new inventors skimp on such costs only to regret it later on when their technology is copycatted. Not Battersby. His machine has eight patents and five trademarks registered in the United States and overseas, covering practically every country where baseball is a prominent pastime. The company recently added Cuba to that list. “Cuba and baseball are synonymous,” Battersby said. The Caribbean, though, because of its widespread poverty, is generally not a great market for ProBatter Sports. Europe and Asia are. Japan, Battersby noted, has 60 percent of the market for baseball that the United States does. But because of the country’s economy and the value of the dollar, pricing has become an issue for selling more machines there. Instead, Battersby and Grimes’ company may license its technology to a Japanese manufacturer. SALES HURDLES The privately held business is seeking an additional $2 million in capital to cover its growth plans. The business has been undercapitalized since it was formed, Battersby said. This past year, it earned a marginal profit, which Battersby expects to exceed in 2005. Annual sales for this year are projected to be $2.3 million with a profit of $139,259. Revenues in 2004 were $1.56 million. Previous years’ revenues ranged from $1 million to $1.1 million. Through creating and marketing his own product, Battersby has also developed a new appreciation for his business clients. “I used to pontificate for 30 years about how to run a business. Now I’m seeing it from the other side. It’s a whole different world,” said Battersby, who, in addition to a full workload at his law office, puts in 30 hours a week running ProBatter Sports. “This has been really hard. It’s capital-intensive. It’s heavy engineering. It’s a combination of everything.” Mistakes have been made along the way, he confessed. “We don’t do a good job of selling,” Battersby admitted. “That’s been a weakness.” Centralizing the sales force in Milford at ProBatter’s headquarters while trying to sell the product on a global basis has hampered the company’s growth, he said. “You can sell magazines that way, but not $75,000 pitching machines.” In addition to professional baseball teams, the pitching simulators have found a market with investment bankers who have them installed in their homes. “We have to convince somebody to spend $75,000 for something that costs $1,500,” he said. Then again, most pitching machines are simple contraptions that hurl a ball from a fixed point without a virtual reality component. Since the professional model was introduced, the company has expanded its line. It now offers a retrofit kit that can be adapted to pitching machines, a softball simulator, Tunnels to Go portable batting cages, a self-contained batting cage and seamed baseballs and softballs specially designed for pitching machines. Despite limited success, Battersby said he is baffled by baseball’s hesitance to embrace new technology. The three hardest things to do, he claimed, are landing an F-14 fighter jet on an aircraft carrier at night, walking in space and hitting a Randy Johnson 98 mph fast ball. But while the military and NASA rely on multimillion dollar simulators to prepare pilots and astronauts in scores of scenarios, professional baseball teams still use pitching coaches who, because they’re human, can’t consistently replicate pitches. “It’s been such a challenge to convince baseball this is the way to do it,” he said.

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