US20030106895A1 - Collapsible insulated container - Google Patents

Collapsible insulated container Download PDF

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Publication number
US20030106895A1
US20030106895A1 US10/062,729 US6272902A US2003106895A1 US 20030106895 A1 US20030106895 A1 US 20030106895A1 US 6272902 A US6272902 A US 6272902A US 2003106895 A1 US2003106895 A1 US 2003106895A1
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container
collapsible
spring
top
container according
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Abandoned
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US10/062,729
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Richard Kalal
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Kalal Richard K.
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Priority to US4204001A priority
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Priority to US10/062,729 priority patent/US20030106895A1/en
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    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D81/00Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents
    • B65D81/38Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation
    • B65D81/3888Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation wrappers or flexible containers, e.g. pouches, bags
    • B65D81/3893Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation wrappers or flexible containers, e.g. pouches, bags formed with double walls, i.e. hollow
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D21/00Nestable, stackable or joinable containers; Containers of variable capacity
    • B65D21/08Containers of variable capacity
    • B65D21/086Collapsible or telescopic containers
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D2313/00Connecting or fastening means
    • B65D2313/02Connecting or fastening means of hook-and-loop type

Abstract

The present invention provides a collapsible insulative container including a shell having at least one sidewall, a bottom, and a top, where the container is biased toward an operative position wherein the open top is distanced from the bottom to provide an interior defined by the shell. The container further includes a spring that provides the bias urging the container toward the operative position. A liner extends from the shell into the interior defined by the shell to define, in said operative position, a container volume for storing items. In the operative position, air space exists between the shell and the liner. The bias of the spring may be countered to collapse the container from the operative position to a collapsed position to facilitate storage of the container when not in use. Venting means is provided to allow the air to exit and fill the air space when the container is collapsed or moves to the operative position.

Description

    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • This is a continuation-in-part of co-pending U.S. Utility (Non-Provisional) patent application Ser. No. 10/042,040 filed on Oct. 19, 2001, entitled “Collapsible Insulated Container”, claiming the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/311,775, entitled “Collapsible Insulated Container”, filed on Aug. 10, 2001, and the specifications thereof are incorporated herein by reference.[0001]
  • TECHNICAL FIELD
  • The present invention relates generally to collapsible containers and, more particularly, relates to collapsible insulated containers having a biased open operative position, wherein the container can store items, and a collapsed or stored position, wherein the collapsible container occupies less space so as to facilitate storage or transportation of the empty container. [0002]
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • Collapsible containers are generally known in the art. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 216,227 to C. Sedgwick teaches a collapsible drinking cup, which is an open container in which a rubber body is attached to a spiral-wound spring frame. The cup can be collapsed and has a rubber band attached to the top of the frame to hold it in its flat, collapsed state. U.S. Pat. No. 5,350,241 to M. Zoland discloses a collapsible bag, such as a suitcase, in which a metal frame allows the bag to be collapsed. As the article is collapsed, a resilient element attached to the frame and is stretched, such that when the forces holding the article in the collapsed state are released, the resilient element will draw the metal frame back into an open position. U.S. Pat. No. 3,480,059 to W. P. Schoening teaches a collapsible receptacle for large quantities which includes a helical reinforcement made either of a metal band or other strong plastic band or rope reinforcing a side cover. U.S. Pat. No. 1,583,083 to J. Macaraig teaches a collapsible receptacle in which the outer casing of the bag is a coil spring which is arranged to support the bag in open or partially open position and is held in place by means of stitching between the outer casing of the bag and the lining. U.S. Pat. No. 5,960,983 to C. C. Chen teaches a collapsible garbage receptacle having a collapsible springy receptacle body connected between the base and the annular top cover frame in which a plurality of spring ribs connected between the top metal ring and the bottom metal ring, arranged in such a manner that the collapsible springy receptacle body is collapsed when the metal top ring and bottom ring are twisted and attached to each other. [0003]
  • Insulated containers are also known, such as U.S. Pat. No. 4,537,313, which teaches a multilayered soft-sided insulated container. Because it has a soft construction, it can be compressed for storage when empty, but it has no means to keep it in an open or closed position. An example of a collapsible insulated container is U.S. Pat. No. 5,913,448 to Mann et al., which teaches a collapsible insulated container for temporarily storing cold items. The walls of the container are attached to the top and bottom of the container and are expandable and collapsible because they are constructed as a bellows-type wall, which includes pleats for that purpose. The walls of the container can include an outer wall and an interior wall, which is a flexible, water-resistant material that has insulating properties and expands and collapses due to its flexibility because it crumples when the container is collapsed, and stretches back when the container is expanded. In addition, the container walls are biased in open position by the use of at least two opposed springs, which are attached to the top and bottom walls of the container. The springs are v-shaped, attached to the top and bottom, and are free to move inside the interior and exterior walls. Finally, a strap passes through the top to hold the top in various positions. [0004]
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention provides a relatively simple collapsible insulated container, which will remain in an upright open position for use, while being easily compressed and stored when empty and not in use. The collapsible insulated container of the present invention includes a top, a bottom and a side wall(s) or shell biased into an operative position by at least one spring. Depending upon the shape of the container, the sidewall can be singular, as is the case with a cylindrical container. Alternatively, there could be multiple side walls as would be the case if the shape was cube-like or had four generally rectangular side walls. A liner can be disposed within the interior of the shell, and the combination of the shell and the liner form a substantially sealed air space between the shell and the liner and provides the container with insulative characteristic. The insulative characteristics can be enhanced by the use of other insulating materials or by the use of temperature aids. The bias of the at least one spring counters the tendency of the container to collapse and keeps the container from going from its operative position to a collapsed position. But, when desired, the container can be easily collapsed for storage or transportation when it is empty. A vent or opening can be provided, preferably in the side wall, to allow air, in the space between the sidewall and the liner, in and out of the space. [0005]
  • In one embodiment, the present invention provides a collapsible insulative container including a soft or flexible top, a soft or flexible bottom, at least one soft or flexible side wall, and an interior liner, wherein the container is biased toward an open operative position. Alternatively, the container could have a rigid bottom, a rigid top or combinations thereof. The container further includes one or more springs that provide the bias to urge the container toward the operative position. In one preferred embodiment, the bias is provided by one continuous spring. The spring can be affixed to the side wall, to the liner, r may be allowed to float free between the side wall and the liner, or may be affixed to the top and bottom of the container and move within the side wall and the liner. The liner is preferably made of a continuous waterproof material and extends from the top into the interior defined by the shell to define, in said operative position, the interior of the container for storing items. Thus, the liner defines the interior of the container and covers the side wall(s) and the bottom of the container. A substantially sealed air space exists between the side walls and the liner. Preferably, a vent means, such as small opening in the side wall, is provided which allow the air in the space to exit when the container is collapsed and to fill the space when the container is returned to it open or operative position. The trapped air therein helps to provide the container with insulative properties. Insulating materials may also be included in the air space to further enhance the insulative properties of the collapsible container. [0006]
  • The bias of the at least one spring may be countered to collapse the container from the operative position to a collapsed position to facilitate storage of the container. Releasable means, such as tie-downs, are provided to keep the container in the collapsed position. The materials chosen for the shell and line help to provide the container with insulative properties. The top of the container also includes a lid releasably held on the top for further defining the container in the operative position and allowing the container to be closed when in use. Additionally, the container may include one or more handles to make the collapsible insulative container readily portable. [0007]
  • DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a preferred collapsible container according to the present invention; [0008]
  • FIG. 2 is an elevational view, in partial cross-section, of the collapsible container of FIG. 1; [0009]
  • FIGS. 3 and 4 show alternative design choices for the spring element of collapsible container according to the present invention; [0010]
  • FIG. 5 is an elevational view, in partial section, of one embodiment of the container of FIG. 1 in its collapsed position; [0011]
  • FIG. 6 is an elevational view of an alternative embodiment of the container of FIG. 1 in its collapsed position; [0012]
  • FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a collapsible container according to the present invention having an alternative shape; and [0013]
  • FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a collapsible container of alternate shape, and employing an alternate spring design.[0014]
  • PREFERRED EMBODIMENT FOR CARRYING OUT THE INVENTION
  • Referring now to the perspective and partial cross-sectional views of FIGS. 1 and 2, it can be seen that a collapsible insulative container, according to the present invention, is designated generally by the numeral [0015] 10. Collapsible container 10 includes a shell 12 having a bottom 14, and a top 16, and at least one sidewall 18, which is formed of a non-rigid or flexible material so as to allow container 10 to collapse as will be described herein. Top 16 is preferably an open top, which is shown as an annulus which can be closed by a lid or cover 36, which is removably attached to top 16 by a means for closing the lid such as the zipper 38 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. As can be appreciated, top 16 appears as a continuous extension of sidewall 18. In the present illustration, the zipper 38 is attached, such as by sewing, to the top of sidewall 18, to create top 16. This creates and opening in the container which can be closed by a lid. But, the structure could be different, such as by creating a lip in which the top extends radially inward from sidewall 18 to provide a surface which will allow for a seal between top 16 and the lid. For the purposes of this application, the term “annulus” is intended to include circular designs, as well as other geometries, such as rectangular. Thus, top 16 preferably will be an open top, which is closed with a lid, although it is not limited to a particular shape.
  • Bottom [0016] 14 may be opened or closed, and is preferably closed to provide a support surface for the container, improving structural integrity and insulative properties, which will be discussed more fully below. Alternatively, bottom 14 may be open and may selectively communicate with an associated lid, as discussed more fully hereinbelow with respect to top 16 and its associated cover or lid 36. Container 10 is shown as being cylindrical, although the present invention is not to be limited thereto or thereby. Alternative shapes are also contemplated and discussed at a later point. Further, top 16, lid 36, and/or bottom 14 could be made from rigid or semi-rigid materials. The present invention does not rely on top, lid or bottom being rigid, and so in one preferred embodiment these can be made from flexible materials, but as noted they could be rigid either individually or in various combinations.
  • Spring [0017] 20 extends between bottom 14 and open top 16 such that these elements are biased away from each other and sidewall 18 is stretched to its maximum height. Thus, under the bias of spring 20, shell 12 defines an interior between bottom 14, top 16, and sidewall 18. Spring 20 is shown as a single spring in FIGS. 1-4, but, as can be appreciated, for tall containers, it may be desirable to achieve a longer spring by placing a series of springs end to end to achieve the appropriate length. The springs could be secured end to end or appropriate means for holding each spring in position could be employed.
  • Referring now to FIG. 3, showing an alternative embodiment for the provision of spring [0018] 20, it can be seen that bottom 14 may be provided with rigidity and enhanced structural integrity by the provision of a bottom ring or plate 22 communicating with spring 20. A ring would be employed when the open bottom 14 is desired, while a plate might be employed when the container employs a closed bottom 14, although a ring could be employed even if a closed bottom was employed since the bottom ring could be covered with a layer of flexible or rigid material. Likewise, top 16 may be provided with rigidity and structural integrity by employing a top ring or annulus 24, and a removable or temporarily attachable lid or cover. With the lid open, the interior of the container can be accessed. These rings and/or plates can be made from any suitable, strong material that would lend strength to container 10 as a whole. Ring/plate 22 may also be provided for cosmetic reasons and/or insulative purposes. For example, ring/plate 22 may be made from materials typically employed in coolers as known in the art, such as metals or rigid resilient plastics. Spring 20, as can be seen, would attach between bottom ring/plate 22 and top ring 24. Referring now to FIG. 4, however, it can be seen that bottom ring/plate 22 and top ring 24 need not be employed inasmuch as spring 20 may be designed to extend around the entire dimensions of bottom 14 and open top 16 and thereby provide the same with suitable strength. Further, as seen in FIG. 4, spring 20 can be spiral-wound in a generally helical shape. Still further, the spring need not be a continuous spring, as is shown in FIG. 4, but could be, for example, rings connected by spiral ribs or springy wires which allow the rings to be twisted and pushed towards each other. This, in turn, would allow a container to be constructed that would collapse when the top and bottom were pushed toward one another. As used herein, the terms “spiral-wound” and “helical” are not limited to circular or cylindrical, and are intended to include other shapes and geometries, including rectangles, ovals, hexagons, octagons, and the like.
  • With reference again to FIGS. 1 and 2, shell [0019] 12 is, in one embodiment, preferably affixed to spring 20 by having an appropriate sleeve 26 therein extending from bottom 14 to top 16 along the surface of sidewall 18. In this embodiment, the sleeve 26 can serve to hold the spring in place on the outside of the sidewall, while also providing an esthetic treatment since it serves to cover the spring that would otherwise be exposed. Further, spring 20 need not be attached to sidewall 18. Spring 20 could be attached to the liner inside of the container, could be allowed to float freely between the sidewall and the liner, or could be attached to top 16 and bottom 14 and not be attached to either the sidewall or a liner. Preferably, sleeve 26 is provided to increase the structural integrity of container 10. Although sleeve 26 is shown here as extending along the exterior surface of sidewall 18, it will be appreciated that it may alternatively extend along the interior surface or be completely absent.
  • Liner [0020] 28 is provided interiorly of the at least one sidewall 18 to provide container volume 30 for storing items. Liner 28 is preferably affixed to top 16, of shell 12, or it may be integral with shell 12 (i.e., sealed or otherwise permanently affixed to shell 12). It is, in one embodiment, preferably removable by an appropriate fastener 32, which, in the illustrative embodiment of FIG. 1, is a zipper fastener 32. An air space 34 exists between the interior of shell 12 and the exterior of liner 28. Air space 34 is desirable for insulative applications for which the present invention is particularly suited and preferred. That is, air space 34 between liner 28 and sidewall 18 and bottom 14 helps to insulate whatever items may be placed in container volume 30. Because airspace 34 is to serve to provide insulative properties, it should be “substantially sealed,” which is to mean that the ingress and egress of air into and out of air space 34 is restricted and controlled such that the insulative characteristic is realized. Various materials can be chosen to help create this desirable substantially sealed environment.
  • In the illustrated embodiment of FIG. 1, air space [0021] 34 is created by having liner 28 fit loosely within shell 12. That is, liner 28 is attached only to top 16 and is free to float in the interior of the container. Liner is a continuous piece of flexible material, which will conform to the interior shape of the container, although not exactly to the shape of the interior. This shape will create many wrinkles and, thus, randomly spaced and positioned air pockets. However, it should be appreciated that liner 28 could be provided as having slightly smaller dimensions then shell 12, in which case a more well-defined air space 34 would be provided having a volume that is the difference between the volume of the outer shell 12 and the inner liner 28. Due to its functional capabilities and ease of manufacture, the aforementioned design providing more random air pockets is preferred and shown in relevant Figures.
  • During the collapse of container [0022] 10, air is substantially trapped in the aforementioned air space 34 between liner 28 and shell 12. Thus, as shown in FIG. 2, shell 12 and/or liner 26 are preferably provided with air vents, such as holes 42, preferably fixed with grommets (not shown) that allow air to escape upon the collapse of container 10 from the operative position to the collapsed position. Alternatively, the vent holes could be provided in the top or the bottom of the container. The preferred location of the holes is in the upper third or the shell 12, with the holes being located near where the shell joins the top 16. The size, location, and number of the holes are not critical. What is important is that they are large enough, numerous enough, and located so that the air in space 34 is allowed to exit when the container is collapsed and to enter when the collapsed container is allowed to return to its open operative position.
  • Collapsible containers [0023] 10 of this invention could advantageously be fitted with temperature aids such as heating or cooling elements. For instance, air space 34 could receive a cold pack, which is commonly known in the art for keeping items within a cooler cold. Preferably, bottom 14 could be made to be selectively opened and closed such that this portion of air space 34 could be readily accessed and filled with such a cold pack. Alternatively, a cold pack could be built into that portion of collapsible container 10 that lies between liner 28 and bottom 14. Another alternative would be to make the shell 18 of a material that was both flexible and which would function as a cold pack when placed in a freezer. For example, the shell could be have a coating of spots of material which could be frozen and which would keep cold items in the interior of the container cold as well. Of course, in such these embodiments, the container would have to be placed in a freezer to re-freeze the cold pack. Such cooling elements need not be placed in the air space 34, but could also be placed adjacent thereto or even within the material of the shell 12 or liner 28. They could also be operatively associated with ring or plate 22 or ring 24, if such structures are employed. Other temperature aids would include cooling fans which could be placed, for example, in the lid or the use of convection devices for heating or cooling. Heating elements could also be used in a similar manner and, in other embodiments, a heating element could be configured into air space 34 or otherwise adjacent to liner 28 or placed in bottom 14 or lid 36. For instance, a thermoelectric device could be fitted to a collapsible container, such as those operated by a car's auxiliary power outlet or “cigarette lighter” receptacle. It will be appreciated that various temperature aids could be employed in accordance with the general teaching hereinabove, and the present invention is not to be limited to or by and particular device for supplying a cooling or heating operation in a collapsible container.
  • Although the air trapped within air space [0024] 34 provides insulative properties, it may be desirable to provide additional insulation material other than air in air space 34. The concept of employing such insulation material is represented in FIG. 2 at numeral 35. By way of non-limiting example, insulation material 35 may be selected from batting-type insulation, open or closed cell plastic foam, insulating fabrics, such as needled non-woven fabrics, and the like. Such material could additionally be bonded to line 28 and/or shell 12.
  • Although not a necessary item, it is preferred that container [0025] 10 include a cover or lid 36, which is appropriately shaped to communicate with open top 16 to selectively seal off container volume 30. The lid also provides additional insulation for the container. Lid 36 provides an opening in top 16 and is removably attached to through an appropriate fastener 38, which, in FIG. 1, is a zipper. The present invention is not to be limited thereto or thereby.
  • Alternative lids would include those held on by snaps, hook and loop fasteners, pressure, or other fasteners. The lid can be permanently fixed to top [0026] 16 and employ a hinge means such that when the fastener means that hold the lid in place are undone, the lid will swing out of the way to provide access to the interior of the container, or it could be fully removable when the fastener means are undone. Another alternative would be to have a top made of flexible material which extends continuously from top 16 and which can be bunched and closed by a drawstring device or other appropriate closure device. Still further, lid 16 could be collapsible in the same manner that the container is collapsible. That is, the lid could be spring biased to expand when released, but when collapsed and retained in that position by appropriate releasable tie-down means, the lid functions as a lid. When expanded, the lid would function to provide either additional space to store, for example, tall bottles, or store additional items, such as sandwiches which are kept separate from the beverages in the interior 30, or bottom, of the container.
  • Container volume [0027] 30 may hold liquids, either as beverage storage or as a result of the melting of ice contained therein or by other means. Thus, a drain 37 could be provided with an appropriated removable stopper (not shown), communicating from container volume 30 through liner 28 to the outside of shell 12. If bottom 14 is open, a hole within liner 28 that is selectively opened and closed could satisfy this need. If a bottom plate 22 is employed, a selectively opened and closed conduit 39 through liner 28, plate 22, and shell 12 could suffice. Indeed, the draining of liquids from container volume 30 could be achieved in many different ways.
  • The relationship just described between shell [0028] 12, spring 20, and liner 28 defines what is to be understood herein as the operative position of container 10. That is, in the operative position, container 10 provides container volume 30 for storing items. The preferred embodiment of the invention, as described, is insulative and, therefore, particular items envisioned for storage and transport in container 10, particularly container volume 30, when in its operative position, are either cold or warm items such as ice and beverages and cold food stuffs or heat packs and warm/hot beverages and food stuffs.
  • Handles [0029] 40 are preferably provided to make container 10 readily portable in the operative position. Notably, collapsible containers, according to the present invention, are constructed of spring and shell and liner materials that are capable of supporting the weight of items intended to be placed therein. That is, when filled with items, collapsible containers, according to the present invention, may be transported by the handles without damage to spring, shell, or liner. Material choices should thus be made based upon intended use.
  • When not in use, container [0030] 10 can advantageously be manipulated to a collapsed position as shown in FIGS. 5 and 6. This collapsed position is reached simply by countering the bias of spring 20 by forcing bottom 14 and open top 16 into close proximity. Once pressed into the collapsed position, container 10 may be maintained in this streamlined, easy-to-store position by appropriate tie-downs 44, as seen in FIGS. 5 and 6. In FIG. 5, the tie-downs 44 are mating hook and loop fasteners, although the present invention is not to be limited thereto or thereby. More particularly, straps of a hook and loop fastener (e.g., hooks 44A) are affixed to bottom 14 and extend around collapsed sidewall 18 to engage a mating hook and loop strap (e.g., loops 44B) affixed to lid 36. In FIG. 6, the tie-downs 44 consist of a loop strap 44C that communicates with a strap and pin 44D. More particularly, strap and pin 44D is inserted through strap loop 44C and oriented such that strap loop 44C is retained by strap and pin 44D to counter the bias of spring 20. Notwithstanding the foregoing, it should be appreciated that the present invention is not limited to these methods of retaining the collapsed position. For example, the tie-down means could also be snap fastener means instead of the hook and loop fastener means, or hook-and-eye fasteners, or other similar fasteners. Further, the tie-down means could be achieved by having the handles be straps which are attached to bottom 14 and extend past or through top 16 such that the straps could be selectively attached to top 16 to maintain the position of the top in the collapsed position or in any intermediate position with respect to the base between collapsed and expanded. The top is maintained in this position by a locking devise which can be attached to top 16 or which is attached to the handle strap, but which is movable along the length of the strap and can be locked into selectable position. For example, such devices are found on clothing to tighten the waste band of coats and are spring loaded locks which are slidable on the tightening cords. They can be compressed to release the lock, slid into position, and released so that the locking mechanism continues to hold them in place. Yet another tie-down could be where the container has handles attached on two sides of the top of the container and the handles can be held together above the top of the container with a hook and loop fastener. This could be structured so that the hooks are on one handle and the loops are on another, or the fastener could be a tab attached to one handle such that it can be looped around the other handle and the attached to itself by having the hooks on one end of the tab and the loops on the other end. When the container is in the collapsed position, the handles could be looped outwardly from the container, past the sides and reattached at the bottom to hold the container in the closed position. Another tie-down construction could be to use “D” rings, which are attached to the top of the container, to attach handles for the container. Then, when the container is in the collapsed position, tabs attached to the bottom of the container can be passed through the “D” rings and looped back to attached to themselves using, e.g., hook and loop or snap fasteners. Thus, the container is restrained in the collapsed position by the tabs placed through the “D” rings. When the tabs are released, the container will spring back to the operative position. As can be appreciated, other means and devices can be employed as tie-downs, and for the purpose of this application, these will be referred to collectively as tie-downs or tie-down means.
  • Referring now to container [0031] 100 of FIG. 7, it can be seen that the present invention is not limited to a container having only one sidewall 18 (i.e., a cylindrical container), and further that springs of various shapes may be provided. In FIG. 7, like parts have received like numerals and a more expansive explanation of this embodiment is deemed superfluous. It should be appreciated, however, that many shapes are possible, including box-like, other polygonal shapes, oval shapes, and the like. Other shapes would include conical shapes, such as a frustro-conical shape where the bottom is a different size than the top. As can be appreciated, the annular top 16 is rectangular in shape, as is the lid 36 and the spring 20 has a shape that is a rectangular helix or spiral wound rectangular shape. Further, the spring is positioned between the side walls 18 and the liner 28.
  • It should also be appreciated that collapsible containers, according to the present invention, do not necessarily have to be constructed such that a “top” is biased away from a “bottom.” Rather, it will be readily apparent that a spring could be provided to urge sides of the container away from each other such that the collapsible container collapses laterally, rather than vertically, in moving from the operative to storage position. For instance, collapsible container [0032] 10, as shown in FIG. 1, could be altered to rest on its side, with an opening provided in sidewall 18 and a removable or temporarily securable lid or cover for the opening also being provided.
  • It should be appreciated that, although preferred, a single, large helical or coil spring need not be employed in this invention. Rather, the collapsible function could be provided by utilizing a plurality of smaller coiled springs extending between the biased sides, within the air space provided between the shell and liner. To maintain the structural integrity of the shell, support members would extend between the plurality of smaller coil springs. In other words, rather than providing a spring that extends around the perimeters of the collapsible container, a multitude of springs would urge the container into an operative position, while support members hinged between these springs would provide the desired shape and structural integrity. For instance, the collapsible container in FIG. 7 could be provided with coil springs at its corners, with support members extending between these springs to provide the desired rectangular shape. FIG. 8 generally depicts this concept. [0033]
  • In FIG. 8, which depicts an alternative embodiment of a rectangular insulative container as shown in FIG. 7, like parts have received like numerals, and the collapsible insulative container has received the numeral [0034] 200. Therein, the chief differences between the embodiment of FIG. 8 and the embodiment of FIG. 7 deal with the manner in which the top 16 and bottom 14 are biased away from each other. Particularly, in the embodiment of FIG. 8, coil or linear springs 220 extend between top 16 and bottom 14 at each of the corners of collapsible container 200. Support members 222 extend between these coil springs 220 and are connected thereto by an appropriate hinge 224 that allows support member 222 to stabilize the springs and yet pivot so as allow, and not to frustrate, the expansion and collapse of collapsible container 200. Alternatively, the springs could be contained in sleeves which provide lateral support, but which telescope when the container is in the operative position and collapse when the container is collapsed. For example, the sleeves and springs would be placed in each corner of the container and be attached to the top and bottom of the container.
  • In addition to not being limited as to shape, collapsible insulative containers, according to this invention, are not to be limited as to size. Indeed, containers ranging from large, picnic basket sizes to lunch box sizes to bottle or can holder sizes are envisioned. For example, if two containers were made with each having a frustro-conical shape, they could be combined large end to large end and would resemble a beer keg shape. Thus, they would be useful to cover a beer keg to provide insulation, while being collapsible. [0035]
  • Collapsible insulative containers, according to this invention, may be fitted with other optional, desirable elements. For instance, wheels could be added to the base of a given container to increase its portability. Along those same lines, a retractable handle could also be provided on containers according to the present invention. For instance, retractable handles, such as those commonly found on luggage, could be employed, especially those employed where the luggage has wheels to allow the container to be pulled when it is in its expanded position. [0036]
  • Suitable materials for use in the construction of collapsible insulative containers, according to this invention, should be evident. By way of non-limiting example, it is preferred that shell [0037] 12 be either a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coated nylon or polyester or a woven polyethylene fabric. A particularly preferred shell 12 is made from a composite fabric of polyethylene terephthalate, aluminum-coated fabric, woven polyethylene, and a polyethylene coated fabric. Such a fabric provides excellent insulation and, notably, the aluminum-coated fabric acts as a sun block in outdoor environments. Non-limiting examples of materials useful for liner 28 include polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride materials, as well as the preferred composite material mentioned for use as shell 12. Spring 20 can be made from any suitable metal or polymer or other material having the resiliency to be collapsed and allowed to expand multiple times, i.e., materials that will essentially not loose their bias during a practical life span for the container.
  • A collapsible insulative container, according to the present invention, was tested to compare its insulative functions against common soft-sided and hard-sided coolers. The collapsible insulative container used has a shell made from a composite material of woven polyethylene fabric having an exterior aluminum film coating, and a liner made from a polyvinyl chloride material. The air space between the shell and liner did not contain any insulation material or cold pack. The soft-sided and hard-sided coolers are those common to the art and are commercially available. [0038]
  • The ambient temperature at test commencement (approximately 8:00 a.m.) was 70° F. in the shade. Starting at 2:00 p.m., each container was in direct sunlight for the balance of the test. The ambient temperature at the end of the test (approximately 4:15 p.m.) was 76° F. The testing began with all of the cans of soda at room temperature (approximately 70° F.). Readings of the percentage of ice remaining were based on visual approximation. [0039]
  • Each insulative device was filled with a dozen twelve fluid ounce soda cans (at room temperature, approximately 70° F.) and a ten-pound bag of ice, and were placed outside, which is, notably, the environment in which these devices would typically be employed. The ambient temperature, at test commencement, was 70° F. in the shade. At the beginning of the experiment, an initial temperature reading of the air within the holding area of each container was taken. Thereafter, the temperature was measured every thirty minutes. This can be seen in Table 1. The air temperature was measured in the collapsible container according to the present invention by inserting a thermometer into the container through a small hole created by slightly unzipping the lid. Air temperature readings were taken in the same way with the soft-sided cooler. The temperature was measured in the hard-sided cooler by inserting a thermometer into a ⅛-inch hole that as drilled through the top of the cooler, and standard duct tape was used to cover the hole when temperature readings were not being taken. [0040]
  • After approximately 4 hours, all coolers were open for one minute, and a single can was removed, opened, and a temperature reading of the soda therein was taken. The open cans were then removed from the test. The temperature of the soda in each experimental sample is provided in Table 2. Each of the coolers was then closed, and testing resumed at the times indicated in Table 3, recording the temperatures within each cooler at intervals of thirty minutes. Testing was ended at approximately 8 hours, and one can was removed from each cooler, opened, and a temperature reading of the soda therein was taken. The results are presented in Table 4. [0041]
    TABLE 1
    SAMPLE IDENTIFICATION
    Sample No. 1 Sample No. 2 Sample No. 3
     8:15 70°  8:20 70°  8:25 70°
     8:45 60°  8:50 58°  8:55 58°
     9:15 60°  9:20 58°  9:25 58°
     9:45 60°  9:50 58°  9:55 58°
    10:15 61° 10:20 59° 10:25 59°
    10:45 61° 10:50 59° 10:55 59°
    11:15 62° 11:20 60° 11:25 60°
    11:45 62° 11:50 60° 11:50 60°
  • [0042]
    TABLE 2
    Sample No. 1 Sample No. 2 Sample No. 3
    Soda Temperature 38° 36° 36°
    after five minutes
    % of ice remaining 50% 75% 75%
  • [0043]
    TABLE 3
    Sample No. 1 Sample No. 2 Sample No. 3
    TIME AIR TEMP (° F.) TIME AIR TEMP (° F.) TIME AIR TEMP (° F.)
    12:30  66° 12:35  60° 12:40  60°
    1:00 66° 1:05 60° 1:10 62°
    1:30 68° 1:35 62° 1:40 64°
    2:00 68° 2:05 64° 2:10 66°
    2:30 74° 2:35 78° 2:40 76°
    3:00 76° 3:05 80° 3:10 80°
    3:30 78° 3:35 94° 3:40 84°
    4:00 84° 4:05 100°  4:10 88°
  • [0044]
    TABLE 4
    Sample No. 1 Sample No. 2 Sample No. 3
    Soda Temp. after five 38° 36° 36°
    minutes
    % of ice remaining  5% 25% 25%
  • Thus, it can be seen that the present invention is successful in providing cooling about equal to insulated containers commercially available, while being a collapsible container. [0045]
  • While in accordance with the Patent Statutes, only the best mode and preferred embodiment has been presented and described in detail, it will be understood that the invention is not limited thereto or thereby. Accordingly, for an appreciation of the true scope and breadth of the invention, reference should be made to the following claims. [0046]

Claims (34)

What is claimed is:
1. A collapsible insulative container comprising:
a shell comprising a top, a bottom and at least one side wall, said container being biased into an operative position by at least one spring;
a liner affixed to said top and disposed within the interior of said shell;
a substantially sealed air space between said shell and said liner; and
a vent means for venting the air from said sealed air space when the bias of said spring is countered to collapse the container from said operative position to a collapsed position and fill said space when said container is released from said collapsed position to assume said operative position.
2. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including at least one releasable means for retain the container in said collapsed position.
3. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including at least one tie-down for retaining the container in said collapsed position.
4. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including at least one hook and loop fastener for keeping the container in said collapsed position.
5. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including insulation material retained within said air space.
6. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said top comprises an annulus attached to said at least one side wall and a lid removably attached to said annulus.
7. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said container has at least one handle means.
8. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said shell is made from a flexible material.
9. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said liner is made from a flexible waterproof material.
10. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said spring is a spiral-wound spring.
11. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein the spring is attached to said side wall.
12. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring follows the contours of said at least one sidewall.
13. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring follows the contours of said at least one sidewall and further includes a sleeve extending along said at least one sidewall of said shell, said sleeve enclosing and retaining said at least one spring.
14. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring is in the space between said side wall and said liner.
15. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring is attached to said liner.
16. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said vent means is in said at least one side wall.
17. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said liner is attached to said top and is free to move in said interior.
18. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including a handle means attached to said bottom and a releasable tie-down means operative in connection with said handle means for selectively holding said container in said collapsed position.
19. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said collapsed position is achieved by bringing said top and said bottom of said shell into close proximity.
20. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring is attached to and extends from said bottom to said top.
21. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including tie-down means for retaining said container in said collapsed position comprising mating hook-and-loop fasteners, at least one of said mating hook-and-loop fasteners being affixed to said bottom of said shell and selectively engaging, when the container is in the collapsed position, another of said mating hook-and-loop fasteners affixed to said top.
22. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including a thermo electric device for selectively heating or cooling the interior of said container.
23. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including wheel means to aid in the transport of the collapsible insulative container.
24. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including a handle means to aid in transport of the collapsible insulative container.
25. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including a temperature aid.
26. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, further including a drain.
27. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein the top is a continuous flexible extension of said at least one side wall and is closed by a drawstring means.
28. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said liner is removably affixed to said top by a fastener.
29. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring comprises at least two springs in end-to-end, linear relationship.
30. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 1, wherein said at least one spring has a spiral-wound or helical shape.
31. A collapsible insulative container comprising:
a shell including at least one sidewall, a bottom, and an top that is biased toward an operative position, wherein said top is distanced from said bottom to provide an interior defined by said shell and the shape of the container is cube-like;
at least one linear spring providing at least a portion of the bias affecting said open top, said at least one spring being located in at least one corner of said container;
at least one stabilizing means for supporting said at least one linear spring during the collapsing and return to operative position of said container;
a liner extending from said shell into said interior to define, in said operative position, a container volume for storing items; and
a substantially sealed air space between said shell and said liner, wherein the bias of said at least one spring may be countered to collapse the container from said operative position to a collapsed position.
32. The collapsible insulative container according to claim 31, wherein said top comprises an annular opening and a lid is associated with said top to releasably close said opening.
33. A collapsible insulative container comprising:
a shell comprising a top, a bottom and at least one side wall, said container being biased into an operative position by a single continuous spring;
a liner affixed to said top and disposed within the interior of said shell; and a substantially sealed air space between said shell and said liner.
34. The collapsible insulative container of claim 33, further including vent means for venting the air from said sealed air space when the bias of said spring is countered to collapse the container from said operative position to a collapsed position and fill said space when said container is released from said collapsed position to assume said operative position.
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