FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to devices for hanging or attachment of one item to another, and more particularly to hangers having opposed arms with terminal hook members that can be engaged and disengaged via three dimensional action for connecting a portion of at least two items to each other.
There are many different types of wire and plastic hangers and other attachment mechanisms. For example, some attachment mechanisms are used for suspending decorative ornaments from limbs of Christmas trees. Numerous disadvantages have been encountered in using the prior decorative ornament hangers. Many of the conventional ornament hangers utilize one hook for engaging a loop on the decorative ornament and another hook at the opposite end of the hanger for engaging the limb or branch from which the ornament is to be suspended. Because the hooks do not form closed loops, ornaments frequently fall and break when accidentally bumped or brushed. This sometimes happens because the ornament becomes disengaged from the hanger, and sometimes happens because the hanger itself becomes disengaged from the limb or branch to which it is attached. In either case, fragile and breakable ornaments are frequently damaged or ruined whenever they fall to the floor.
Another disadvantage encountered with many metal wire hangers is that they have sharp edges, and break if bent too many times.
Suggested solutions can be found in U.S. Pat. No. 4,738,424, U.S. Pat. No. 4,966,344, U.S. Pat. No. 6,340,238, and U.S. Pat. No. 6,347,780. The text of all patents and other documents referenced herein, including documents referenced within referenced documents, is hereby incorporated by reference as if same were reproduced in full below.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,738,424, to Connor, discloses an apparatus for securing articles to a line, rod or other elongated cylindrical support. The apparatus includes two wire flanges biased by a coil spring from which they extend. The flanges include opposed-opening hooks, one at the end of each flange. The hooks form an opening when the springed flanges are compressed, and form a closed attachment means when the flanges are released. The flanges are substantially co-planar when in the compressed and released positions. A hook retainer is used to hold the hooks together when in the closed position.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,966,344, to Gary, discloses a plastic ornament hanger that comprises opposed, recurved overlapping jaws adapted to be separated by the application of a compressive manual force to the hanger so that the jaws can surround and releasably engage the branch to which the hanger is to be attached. The hanger also comprises a snap rib and snap rib channel formed in a hinge or pivot connecting the opposing limbs forming the jaws. A snap rib on one limb can engage a snap rib channel on the opposing limb to hold the jaws together. The hinge includes a space for insertion of an ornament hanging loop. Disengagement of the snap rib from the snap rib channel separates the limbs to open the hanger. The rib engages the channel solely via frictional force. If the channel has high friction, it will be difficult to open and close the device, and if it has low friction, the device will too easily release. Further, to achieve optimal and consistent performance characteristics, there can be little tolerance for error in manufacture of the rib and rib channel.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
While the attachment mechanisms of Conner and Gary have advantages over their predecessors, it is desired to have an attachment or hanging mechanism that is easier to manufacture, simple in design, and provides for direct interlocking of its hook members.
In one aspect, the present invention involves a unitary attachment mechanism (or clasp) that has two opposed resilient arms extending from a hinge. The arms have opposed curved hooks at or near their tip ends. The hooks curve in substantially opposite directions from each other, and can be engaged by articulating the arms in three dimensions, or likewise disengaged from an engaged position by articulating the arms.
Description of the invention may be facilitated using Cartesian coordinates. In the Figures the X direction is horizontal, the Y direction is vertical, and the Z direction is perpendicular to the X and Y directions, i.e., into and out of the page. In a perspective view, the Cartesian coordinate orientations match those of the plan view (i.e., the X, Y and Z directions used in describing the device are the same as in a plan view of the device, only adjusted in the perspective view to match the corresponding difference in angular position between the point of reference for the plan view and for that of the perspective view).
The distal ends of the arms can be pressed towards each other substantially parallel to or in a first X-Y plane containing the hinge (e.g., moved towards each other in the X direction in or parallel to the first X-Y plane) so that the arms cross sufficiently in the X direction to permit interlacing or interlocking of the hooks, and at least one tip end moved in a direction that does not coincide with the first plane (e.g., the Z direction) to interlock the hooks or disengage interlocked hooks upon release of the arms to move away from each other. By spacing the distal ends of the arms from each other in the Z direction, frictional resistance to clasping and unclasping is substantially eliminated. In the alternative, at least one of the tip ends of the arms can be biased toward the other and curved to project at an angle from the first plane, e.g. 7-10° in the Z direction towards the other arm, to facilitate interlocking of the hooks when the arms are sufficiently overlapped in the X and Z directions and subsequently released. Hence, when the arms sufficiently overlap in the X direction wherein one arm and the hinge lie substantially in a first X-Y plane, and the tip end of the other arm is moved in the Z direction towards the other tip end so that the arms sufficiently overlap in the Z-direction, the arms and hooks can be engaged in an interwoven crisscross fashion to create a secure attachment upon release of the arms resiliently biased away from each other in the X direction. Release is accomplished by reversing the steps to interlock the hooks. In an embodiment, at least the tip ends of the arms are resiliently biased toward each other in the Z direction.
- DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
These and other advantages of the present invention and various embodiments thereof are more fully described below with reference to the following drawings.
FIG. 1 illustrates a first embodiment of an attachment mechanism of the present invention in top plan view in open (i.e., unlocked) position at rest. Note that open sides of the hooks face away from each other in the X direction and an optional at rest gap exists between the two hooks in at least the X direction (alternatively the at rest hook gap exists in at least the Y direction) so that no obstruction exists for an item, e.g., ornament hoop, to enter the clasp bite space.
FIG. 2 illustrates the attachment mechanism of FIG. 1 with the arms compressed towards each other in the X direction so that the arms overlap and the open sides of the hooks face each other. Note that the tips of the arms have moved past each other in the X direction so that each tip is free to move in the Z direction without interference from the other hook. This position is a locking or unlocking position depending on which direction at least one of the hooks is moved with respect to the other in the Z direction.
FIG. 3 illustrates the attachment mechanism of FIG. 1 with the arms compressed towards each other so that the arms and hooks overlap. This is an intermediate position between the at-rest configuration and the compressed configuration shown in FIG. 2. However, an alternative embodiment is envisioned where the configuration of FIG. 3 is an at rest configuration.
FIG. 4 illustrates the attachment mechanism of FIG. 1 with the arms interlocked via the double crisscrossed overlap of the hooks.
FIGS. 5A-B illustrate two exemplary embodiments of devices of the present inventions, wherein the device of FIG. 5A has an unclasped at-rest gap between the hooks, whereas the device of FIG. 5B has an unclasped at-rest configuration that provides a slight overlap of the inner curve of the hooks.
- FURTHER DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 6 is an illustration of a side perspective view of a device of the present invention. Note that, starting from the hinge and moving towards the tips, the arms have a slight bow shape in the Z direction (in addition to bowing away from each other in the X direction) with one tip/hook being biased towards the other. This facilitates interlocking of the hooks when the arms are compressed towards each other sufficiently in the X direction, e.g., as shown in FIG. 2, and then the arms released to move apart in the X direction.
Referring to FIGS. 1-4, an embodiment of the present invention is illustrated. Hanger 10 comprises a hinge portion 12, arms 14 and 16, and hooks 18 and 20. The hanger in FIG. 1 has the general appearance of the Greek letter omega (upside down in the Figures). Arms 14 and 16 have bow sections 19 and 21 that cause them to extend outward from each other in the X direction to form a first opening 22 of suitable size to encircle two items to be connected together by hanger 10. The clasp bite space defined by first opening 22 is determined by the length and curvature of the arms extending from the hinge to the point where the hooks can move freely with respect to each other in the Z direction when the arms are overlapped in the X direction (the hook “engagement/disengagement” position, “lock/unlock” position, or “clasp/unclasp” position). Hence, where items of small dimensions are to be connected together the clasp bite space can be relatively small, whereas greater curvatures in and lengths of the arms 16 and/or 14 can enable larger items to be connected together. The portions of the arms 14 and/or 16 forming the bite space can be altered and/or “keyed” to accommodate different shapes as well. For example, if it is desired that an item or items not rotate in the clasp, the bite space shape can match one or more portions of one or more items to be connected by the clasp. Further, hinge 12 can be modified to accommodate different uses.
One use for the embodiment of FIG. 1 is, when sized appropriately, as a Christmas tree ornament hanger, wherein after inserting one of the arms through the ornament hanger wire or string loop, the first opening 22 is sized to accommodate a tree branch when the device is in the clasped configuration. The insertion of the ornament hanger wire or string loop into hinge 12 may serve to bar further compression of the arms together in the X direction or even bias the arms apart to enhance the grip between the engaged hooks.
A hook, e.g., 18 and 20, is located at the distal end of each bow section 19 and 21, and can be described as having three sections. The distal direction is defined herein as the direction projecting away from hinge 12 generally toward hooks 18 and 20 (since the ends of the arms of the devices of the present invention can move in the X, Y and Z directions, the distal direction may vary in all three coordinates). Hence, each arm has a hinge end and a distal end. For example, the hinge ends are 30 and 32.
Referring to hook 18, an inwardly curved section 24 meets an outwardly curved section 26 that terminates in tip 28, leaving a first hook opening 34 sufficiently large for a portion of the shaft forming hook 20 to be inserted therethrough, while hook 20 encircles a second hook opening of suitable size for the shaft forming opposite hook 18 to be contained within.
Hanger 10 is preferably made of a moldable polymeric resin selected from the group consisting of nylon or other suitable polyamide, an acrylate, an acetal, a polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene, although it is understood that other resins can also be used satisfactorily provided that any such resin has sufficient flexibility and resilience to function in the manner described herein. The device may be injection molded. The hanger can also be formed of metal, wood and/or a composite (e.g., like a bow used to shoot arrows) provided the construction materials have sufficient flexibility and resilience to function in the manner described herein. In an embodiment, the dimensions of mechanisms of the present invention and the materials comprising same depend upon the size and strength requirements to which the mechanism will be used, e.g., the amount of force that can be withstood without the mechanism failing.
Devices of the present inventions are preferably formed by molding, e.g., injection molding. Alternatively, the inventions may be manufactured by stamping. There are numerous other ways of manufacturing the devices as one of ordinary skill in the art can appreciate. In an embodiment, devices were formed of nylon sheet cut to the desired form, and functioned acceptably.
FIGS. 2-6 illustrate how devices of the present inventions function and some exemplary alternative embodiments. Referring to the embodiment shown in FIG. 6, the distal ends of the arms are biased towards each other. If the hanger in FIG. 1 was rotated 90° to provide an end view, only the side of one arm and the side of the hinge would be seen. However, such an end view illustration of the device in FIG. 6 would show the hooks crisscrossed in the Z direction. As the arms of the device of FIG. 6 are compressed towards each other in the X direction from the position shown, the hanger will first reach the configuration of FIG. 3. If compressed further, the hanger will reach the configuration shown in FIG. 2, wherein a gap 36 exists between the tips of the hooks of the overlapped arms. Due to the biasing of the hooks towards each other in the Z direction, when there is sufficient arm overlap for gap 36 to exist, the distal ends of the arms will move towards each other in the Z direction to cross. It should be understood that when gap 36 is 0 or more crossing of the hooks in the Z direction will occur when the distal ends of the arms are biased towards each other in the Z direction. In an embodiment, the crossing in the Z direction may be initiated when there is an overlap of the tips ends if the tip ends are sufficiently flexible. This crossing in the Z direction can be counteracted to disengage the clasp by manipulating the hooks against the Z bias. When the hooks of the overlapped arms are crossed in the Z direction, release of the arms to move apart in the X direction will cause the arms and hooks to be engaged in an interwoven crisscross fashion, or double crisscross configuration, illustrated in FIG. 4; otherwise, the device will return to the configuration of FIG. 6.
FIG. 5 illustrates two different embodiments. In FIG. 5A, there is an at-rest hook gap 40 between the hooks in the X direction when the hooks are not interlocked. In FIG. 5B, this at-rest hook gap is eliminated, and the arms overlap in the X direction when at rest. The embodiment of FIG. 5B might be used, for example, for light weight ornaments, wherein even if the hooks are accidentally not interlocked or unlocked, the ornaments might still stay attached where desired if the arms are biased together sufficiently.
Referring further to FIG. 5, in an embodiment, a portion of the upper surface 42 on hook 18 can engage and slide against the corresponding lower surface of hook 20. Surface 42 and the corresponding lower hook surface of 20 can be shaped and have a smooth texture to ease interlocking of the hooks 18 and 20. However, the inner edges 44 and 46 of hooks 18 and 20 can have a different, rougher or tacky (e.g., adhesive) texture, to facilitate keeping the hooks from coming apart when engaged. In an embodiment, inner edges 44 and 46 can have ridges that extend at opposed angles, forming a ratchet mechanism that enhances the clasp lock strength.
While the embodiment of FIG. 6 has the hooks biased toward each other in the Z direction to facilitate interlocking from an unlocked position, in another embodiment, the arms do not have to have any particular bias in the Z direction. In this case, the arms must be manipulated sufficiently to overlap in both the X and Z direction. In a preferred embodiment, this can be done by compressing the arms between the two fingers of one hand.
An exemplary embodiment of a Christmas tree ornament hanger has a length from hinge to each distal arm end of about ½ inch to about 2 inches and a greatest at-rest width of about ¼ inch to about 2 inches. The thickness of the arms is about 1/32nd inch to about ⅛ inch, but preferably between about 1/32nd inch and 1/16th inch or 1/10th inch. Arm width (versus overall device greatest width) can be about equal to our greater than arm thickness. In am embodiment, the overall device components can have the same thickness and width (i.e., the hinge, arms and hooks have the same thickness and width), although the hook tips at the ends of the arms are preferably tapered. In an exemplary embodiment, the ornament is formed of a polyamide, such as but not limited to nylon. Of course, much larger devices can be formed, a foot or more in size, for large public displays and other uses.
Many advantages arise from the present invention. The device is very easy and inexpensive to manufacture, and has no complicated parts. The double crisscross overlap of the hooks and/or arms creates a very strong grip, reducing the risk of accidental detachment.
The foregoing are non-limiting examples of the advantages of the present invention. In view of these advantages, one of skill in the art will desire new devices constructed in accordance with the present invention. For example, the tips can rounded or be in a shape that facilitates that interlocking action.
A cam mechanism can be included on at least one arm to facilitate the three dimensional interlocking action.
The present pioneer invention has been described with reference to exemplary embodiments only, and incorporates by reference numerous teachings. Therefore, many variations to the disclosed embodiments are envisioned to be within the teachings and spirit of the present application.