Nestable containers with folding coverings

Some embodiments relate to nestable containers having a reversibly deformable covering that is reversibly deformable from a covering position to a storage position, wherein the covering has a projected surface area in the storage position that is less than a projected surface area of the closure in the covering position such that the covering is storable inside the container while other containers of identical size and shape are nested in the container. The covering may include a fastener that, when fastened, prevents movement of the covering from the storage position to the covering position. And the covering and/or container may include a gasket for sealing.

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Description

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Patent Application Ser. No. 60/678,146, filed May 5, 2005 and U.S. Patent Ser. No. 60/741,154 filed Dec. 1, 2005, each of which are hereby incorporated by reference herein.

This application hereby incorporates by reference herein U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/974,553, filed Oct. 27, 2004, U.S. patent Ser. No. 11/083,870 filed Mar. 18, 20005, and U.S. patent Ser. No. 11/083,871 filed Mar. 18, 2005, each of which are hereby incorporated by reference herein to the extent they do not contradict the explicit disclosure of this patent application.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The technical field is related to nestable containers having a covering.

BACKGROUND

Food storage containers are popularly used to store food that is left over after a meal. The food is packed into the storage container, sealed, and placed into a refrigerator. Such food containers may be reusable and made of plastic and have a lid.

SUMMARY

Many consumers own a variety of types of reusable food containers. Each type has its own lid. As a result, there is often a need to search through a variety of lids and containers to identify ones that match. The searching process is often inconvenient and frustrating. One solution to this problem is to store the containers with the coverings that fit them; as described herein, coverings may be made that are placed inside the containers while they are nested—thus the coverings and containers are not separated and are easily located. In certain embodiments, coverings may be bent into a shape small enough to fit into the containers, e.g., by using a bendable material to make the covers, or to join unbendable halves of the covers by a bendable joint, e.g., a hinge or a flexible material that can be reversibly bent to fold the cover in half for storage and unbent for use as a covering.

Some embodiments have fasteners on the covers to help keep the covers folded into a compact shape. Users fold these covers and then engage a fastener that keeps the covering closed, in case the covering has some bias making it tend to spring open.

Some embodiments have extra sealing features such as a gasket or a soft material strategically placed to stop potential leaks. Depending upon the particular design of a cover-and-lid system, a point that can tend to leak is located where a hinge on a cover intersects a rim of the container. Some embodiments place a gasket at this point, such as a piece of material that is relatively soft and/or resilient compared to the container and/or covering.

Some embodiments include making and using a storage device comprising a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the detachable cover comprising a reversible fastener and a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, wherein the first portion is reversibly fastenable to the second portion by the fastener when the bendable joint is bent and the cover is detached from the container.

And some embodiments include making and using a storage device comprising a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the cover comprising a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, and with the cover being bendable at the bendable joint to fit within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water, wherein the cover comprises a gasket for forming a reversible seal with the container.

And some embodiments include making and using a storage device comprising a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the cover comprising a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, and with the cover being bendable at the bendable joint to fit within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water, wherein the container comprises a rim that defines an opening that is covered by the cover and a sealing member projects from the rim to form a seal with the cover at a point where the bendable joint intersects the rim, and the sealing member does not extend around the entirety of the rim.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1A is a perspective view of a storage device having a nestable container and a cover;

FIG. 1B is a perspective view of the device of FIG. 1A with the cover folded and rotated for placement into the container;

FIG. 1C is a cross-sectional view of the device of FIG. 1A nested with identically dimensioned containers, with the lids stored in and between the nested containers;

FIG. 2 is an exploded partial view of an assembly having a container with a sealing member and a cover for the container;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the device of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4A is a perspective view of another embodiment of a container-and-cover assembly;

FIG. 4B is a perspective view of the container of FIG. 4A;

FIG. 4C is a perspective view of the bottom of the cover of FIG. 4A;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a cover equipped with a sealing member that bridges a bendable portion of the cover;

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a cover equipped with a sealing member that surrounds the periphery of the cover;

FIG. 7 is a perspective partial view of a cover-and-container system;

FIG. 8 is a a perspective partial view of latching means for a cover-and-container system; and,

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an alternate latching means for a cover-and-container system.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Some embodiments are containers having lids that can be bent into a storage shape that allows the lids to be stored inside the containers while the containers are nested with each other. This method of storage conveniently keeps the containers and coverings together. A fastener may be used to keep the covering in the storage shape. The coverings and/or containers may be equipped with gaskets to enhance the sealing of the container and covering with each other. Certain embodiments are directed to bending the coverings at bendable joints to move the coverings into the storage position or shape.

A reversibly bendable joint allows coverings to be bent into a different shape by bending the joint. In some cases the bendable joint is a hinge, while in other cases it is merely a flexible, reversibly deformable material that folds without making a crease. The bendable joint joins at least two portions of the covering to each other. The two portions may be clearly distinct from the joint, as in the case wherein two rigid materials are joined by a reversibly deformable thermoplastic elastomer. In other cases the bendable joint is a living hinge that is made by creating a relatively thin plastic member that is continuous with the portions that it joins. A nonreversibly bendable joint or material is essentially not restorable to its original state after bending, e.g., a piece of plastic that stretches without returning to its original shape.

A covering's reversibly bendable joint may be, for example, a hinge or a living hinge. A living hinge is typically formed by creating a thin portion of a plastic in a relatively thicker plastic member. The living hinge allows for repeated folding and unfolding. Polypropylene and certain other engineering plastics are particularly suited to the formation of living hinges. Various hinges may be used, including those referred to as butt, door, strap, concealed, take-apart & two-pin hinges. Other hinge types are, for example: ball-and-socket, and mortise-and-tenon. Additional hinges are, for example: projection hinge, parliament hinge, tee hinge, and bands & gudgeons.

And a reversibly bendable joint may be made, for example, from at least one piece of a flexible material that joins two other members, or portions of the covering, that are to be pivoted relative to each other. Reversibly bendable joints may be made with materials that are elastic, for example, from natural or synthetic rubbers, rubbery materials, and many thermoplastic elastomers. Examples of materials include neoprene, nitrile, polyisoprenes, fluoroelastomers, ethylene/acrylics, silicones, butyl rubbers, SBR, EPDM, VITON, combinations and derivatives thereof, and other materials, e.g., as in the Handbook of Plastics and Elastomers. Liquid silicone rubbers, and silicone rubbers in general, are useful materials that are highly elastic, food-compatible, and suitable in a range of temperatures from freezing to boiling. Other materials that may be suitable, depending upon specific designs and uses, are DYNAFLEX, SANTOPRENE, KRAYTON, ENGAGE, ESTANE, and DOW CORNING SILASTIC. These materials are all readily available from brokers in industries that serve these arts.

Two or more portions of a covering may be joined by an elastic portion that serves as a bendable joint. The portions may be essentially rigid materials or may be other elastic materials. The covering may be removed from the container, folded by bending the bendable, and placed into the container, which may then be nested.

Some embodiments herein are directed to reversibly deformable closures (e.g., coverings) that can be positioned between the containers while the containers are nested. The closures are in a first position while covering the containers, and are reversibly deformed to another position when stored in or on the containers, so that the containers may be nested with each other. The closures may then be restored to the covering position. Reversible deformation thus refers to a change in shape that is reversible, and may be used to refer to the transition from a covering position to a storage position, or vice versa. Coverings described herein as having a bendable joint are reversibly deformable coverings.

Embodiments include containers associated with a reversibly deformable closure that can be positioned to cover the container and deformed to fit inside the container. Then the containers may be nested, each with a closure still associated with them. The reversible deformation may be accomplished, e.g., by using an elastic material or a rigid material having a telescoping, stacked, folded, layered, and/or corrugated structure. And closures can be prepared that are deformed to be stored on the bottom of the container so as not to interfere with container nesting when not in use, but can be positioned to fit over the top of the container.

Embodiments include an apparatus having containers (e.g., for food storage) and closures for the containers, the storage apparatus comprising a plurality of nested containers each having an opening; and, a plurality of reversibly deformable closures for covering the openings, wherein the containers are nestable with each other with one of the closures disposed between each nested container, and the openings each have the same dimensions. A reversibly deformable closure may have at least a portion that is an elastic material for reversibly deforming the closure, or the reversibly deformable closures may be made essentially of elastic materials. A surface area of the reversibly deformable closure may be increased by at least about 25% or 100% when the closure is disposed over an opening compared to the surface area of the closure in a resting position.

A reversibly deformable closure may have a fold, a bendable joint, or corrugations for reversibly deforming the closure, and may further have a detent, or could have a combination thereof. The reversibly deformable closures may include a nondeformable portion. Similarly, methods for using such apparatuses are included, e.g., a method of storing a plurality of storage containers, the method comprising nesting the plurality of containers with each other with a reversibly deformable closure disposed between the plurality of containers, wherein the plurality of containers each comprise an opening of the same dimension and the reversibly deformable closure may be used to cover the opening.

The coverings may interact with containers to make a substantial seal so that contents of the containers are substantially isolated within the containers. Various structures may be incorporated in the coverings and containers to accomplish a substantial sealing. Various fasteners and seals may be used to join a closure to a container. Further, the degree of sealing may be controlled and varied, so that some seals are water tight while others merely provide a snug seating arrangement to generally isolate the container contents from the outside environment. For example, flanges, grooves, beads, and various means for establishing a seal between a container and a closure, as known to persons in these arts, may be used. In some embodiments, the covering has a slight undercut that creates a small ridge at the edge of the cover; when forced over the container rim, the ridge provides resistance when the cover is removed.

In some embodiments, the covering has a fastener that, when fastened, prevents movement of the covering from the storage position to the covering position. The covering may include a part of, or the entirety of, the fastener, which may have one or more members. In one embodiment, a fastener has a first and a second member that fasten to each other; these may be placed on opposite sides of covering, e.g., on opposite sides of a bendable joint. A user bends the covering to fasten the fastener members to each other to place the covering in a storage position, and then stores the covering. In some embodiments, the first and second members are a male and a female member, e.g., a cavity and a tenon, a post and an invagination, two members of a snap, a tongue and a groove, or a male member that snap-fits into a female member. In other embodiments, the fist member and the second member both project outwardly from the covering and fasten to each other by a friction fit, an interference, or by use of interacting ridges or tabs. The fastener members may both be deployed, for example, on top of a cover (e.g., FIG. 3), both on the sides of a covering (e.g., FIG. 4A), or a combination thereof. Embodiments include fasteners wherein a knob, strap, or pin fastens to a loop or circle, complementary hook-and-loop materials, snaps, rod-and-slot, and rod-and-clip. An embodiment is a clip that clips the covering in the storage position.

Some embodiments are a container that is dimensioned to provide contact with a covering that is in a folded, storage position such that the interior walls of the container keep the covering closed in the storage position. The contact may be provided by frictional forces, for instance, by sizing the interior of the container so that the walls contact the covering when the covering is disposed inside the container. The contact may, alternatively, be provided by placing a rib or other structure on the container interior so that the cover must be forced past the rib, which is deep enough into the container to prevent the covering from opening.

Gaskets may be employed between a closure and a container. In general, a gasket provides a mechanical seal that serves to fill the space between two objects to prevent leakage between the two objects, and typically is under at least mild compression to deform the gasket. The gasket may be a complete circle, e.g., an O-ring, or merely a strategically placed material that contributes to sealing. An elastic or a resilient material is preferred for the gasket so that it may be deformed at least slightly during sealing to assure a high quality seal. For example, silicones, thermoplastic elastomers, KRAYTON, DYNAFLEX, ENGAGE, or SANTOPRENE are suitable.

The gasket may be disposed on the covering, on the container, or both. Some gaskets may advantageously be placed at a point where a hinge of a covering intersects a rim of the container. For instance, point 1218 in FIG. 2 is located where rim 1212 passes under bendable joint 1210 when covering 1204 is placed in the covering position on container 1202. This point may be prone to leakage during use since the seal between the cover and the container is affected by the hinge at this point. FIG. 2 shows a gasket placed at this point. The gasket may be overmolded, inserted, adhered, or otherwise affixed to the rim. Alternatively, the gasket may be placed on the covering, e.g., as in FIG. 5. Some gaskets may advantageously be placed around the entire circumference of the container or the entire circumference of the covering, as in FIG. 6.

A latch may be used in combination with the gasket to provide a further enhanced seal. For instance, a latch may be placed near a point where a hinge or bendable joint intersects a rim of a container, with the latch being used to provide extra compressive force on a gasket to create a seal.

In some embodiments, latching mechanisms may be employed, e.g., to enhance a seal between a closure and a container, with or without the involvement of a gasket. FIGS. 8 and 9 provide examples of latches. And, for example, see WO 2004/035411 and U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,793,096, 5,775,483, and U.S. Pat. Pub. Nos. 20040099669 and 20030015534, which are hereby incorporated by reference herein. A plurality of latches may be used, e.g. between one and four. For example, plastic latches that pivot between a storage position for sealing the container and an open position for removing a cover from the container may be used.

And, for example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,793,096 explains how latches using locking wings are integrally formed at edges of the lid, so that the wings can be pivoted upward and downward. Flange portions are formed on upper end outer surfaces of sidewalls of the case, so that the locking wings are engaged with the flange portions to be maintained in a locked state. An engaging groove is defined on a lower surface of each flange portion. Each locking wing has an elastic engaging part which is formed to be flexed and cover the lower surface of the flange portion when the corresponding locking wing is pivoted downward, and engaging protuberances which are horizontally formed on an upper surface of the elastic engaging part to be engaged with the engaging groove of the flange portion while elastically deforming the elastic engaging part.

Alternatively, a combination of latch(es) and living hinges may be used to affix a covering to a container, e.g., a closure affixed to a container by a living hinge with latch(es) to provide additional sealing action.

A closure may be prepared that is folded in a storage position so that it has a relatively small projected area relative to its unfolded state. Thus a user may fold a closure, dispose it in or under a container, and nest the container with other containers of a similar or substantially identical size and shape. Then the closure may be unfolded and used as a lid for the container. Or, for example, a closure may be prepared that is collapsed in a storage position so that it occupies a relatively small volume relative to its uncollapsed state. Thus a user may expand the closure, dispose it in or under a container, and nest the container with other containers of a similar or substantially identical size and shape. Then the closure may be expanded and used as a lid for the container.

A cover that is stored between nested containers may be designed to occupy a specified height. The height of a container would be the vertical distance between a cover and an opposing bottom of the container. The height of a cover would be measured parallel to the height of the container when the cover is disposed inside the container. Thus a cover may be made so that, when folded and placed approximately parallel to the bottom of the container, it has a height that is less than about 50%, 40%, 33%, 20%, 10%, or less than 10% of the container's height; a person of ordinary skill in these arts will appreciate that all ranges and values from more than 0% to less than 50% are intended although they are not explicitly set forth. The terms length, width, and height may be used to refer to certain dimensions of the covers and containers. Thus the height of a cover may be compared to the depth (or “height”) of a container. When covers are made solely out of elastomeric materials, the covers may be quite thin relative to the container depth. When the cover is made of relatively rigid materials, the height of the cover is typically greater. A polypropylene cover with a living hinge has been made with a height of about 0.25 inches; this cover can be made with a length and width to accommodate a wide variety of containers. In some embodiments, non-identical containers are nested with each other, with covers between them. For example, containers of different heights are made that are nestable with each other. Then the coverings for at least one of the containers are disposed between them for storage.

One measure of the change in the state of a closure between two positions is the change in surface area. A measurement of a surface area is accomplished by adding up the entire area of the surface, and is not to be confused with the projected surface area of an object. For example, a stretchable rubber sheet increases its surface area when it is stretched. In contrast, an essentially unstretchable material bounded by an elastic band of rubber material can have its projected area changed by stretching the band over an object, but the band's stretching essentially does not change the surface area of the object because the unstretchable material remains the same size. A projected surface area is the projection of an object onto a two-dimensional surface. For example, a corrugated closure has substantially no change in its surface area as the corrugations are flattened, but the projected surface area is changed. An embodiment is a storage device having a closure and a container comprising an opening, with the closure being securable over the opening and comprising a reversibly deformable portion having a surface area or a projected surface area that is increased by at least about 15%, e.g., by at least about 25%, by at least about 50%, or by at least about 100%, when the closure is secured over the opening.

Closures may be made to have a surface area or projected surface area that is increased when placed over an opening of a container. The increase of the surface area or projected surface area may be, for example, at least about 5%, e.g., at least about 15%, at least about 25%, at least about 50% and at least about 100%. Ranges of increased surface area may be, e.g., 5%-1000%, and all ranges therebetween, e.g., 5%-500%, and 15%-350%; persons of ordinary skill in these arts will immediately appreciate that all values and ranges between the explicitly stated ranges are contemplated. Certain embodiments include containers with a volume in the range between about 1 ounce and about 512 ounces, and coverings or containers made of plastic that is at least about one sixteenth of an inch thick.

Embodiments of closures include those having a surface area of any size suitable for the intended container. For example, the closure, when placed in a position to cover an opening, may have a surface area that is a range of about 1 to about 1,000 square inches, including all ranges therewithin, e.g., about 4 to about 64 square inches, about 9 to about 36 square inches, and about 9 to about 36 square inches; persons of ordinary skill in these arts will immediately appreciate that all values and ranges between the explicitly stated ranges are contemplated.

Embodiments include a container that comprises a nestable shape wherein a plurality of the containers occupy less space when nested as compared to the space occupied when the plurality of containers are not nested. Some nestable containers have openings that receive the bottom of another container, e.g., a nested stack of reusable/disposable food containers that are commonly available at retail stores. The nesting may be essentially complete or partially complete. Essentially complete refers to containers that are nested so that the interior volume of one container is essentially filled by another. Partially complete refers to nesting wherein a first container fits inside a second container but leaves a portion of the second container's interior volume unfilled, e.g. between about 1% and about 75% of the volume of the container (i.e., 99% to 25% of the container is filled); persons of ordinary skill in these arts will immediately appreciate that all values and ranges between the explicitly stated range are contemplated.

Certain embodiments are directed to nestable containers having reversibly deformable coverings that can fit within a volume that is defined by a specified portion of the interior space of the container. A container's interior space is all the space within its interior walls when the container is empty and resting on its bottom surface: for example, an empty cylinder defines a cylindrical interior space, even if the cylinder has holes in it. The bottom 50% of that interior space is defined by pouring an imaginary fluid into the interior space and observing the shape that the fluid assumes. The bottom surface is usually readily known to the artisan when considering the shape and intended use of the container, is usually opposing the opening covered by a lid of the container, and is usually the surface that supports the container when the container is filled to its maximum capacity without its lid on.

In some embodiments, a volume is specified by imagining that fluid is literally put into the container when the container is on a level surface without its lid in place. The water flows into the interior space of the container and assumes its shape. In such embodiments, the volume is defined by the effect that would be produced by literally putting water into the container, so that containers that do not hold water are excluded. So a container with a hole in its bottom would not be fillable with water.

It is useful to define the interior space of a container, for instance, when describing coverings that fit inside the container. Certain embodiments are directed to a covering for a container that fits in (would be contained by) a volume defined by the bottom about 1%-about 50% of the interior space of a container or defined by filling a container about 1%-about 50% full of water; artisans will understand that all ranges and values within these explicitly stated bounds are contemplated. Thus some covers will rest completely on a bottom of a container when placed inside, while other can stay within the volume defined by, e.g., 50% full of water, and have portions resting on the walls of the container.

Some embodiments are food storage containers for home use, e.g., for meal leftovers. Although food storage containers for home use have a multiplicity of uses that are not limited to storage of food or use at a home, such containers are made to comply with certain requirements for food safety. Some embodiments are directed to using food-grade materials, microwaveable materials, materials resistant to deformation in the conditions typically encountered in automatic dishwashers (top shelf and/or bottom shelf), freezable materials, materials for use in a household oven, and/or materials that do not give off harmful substances in normal use.

Moreover, food storage containers for home use have limited dimensions so that a plurality of them may be accommodated within a home storage space, e.g., a refrigerator or pantry. Sizes and suitable ranges of sizes are may be described volumetrically in terms of the number of ounces of water that they hold: from about one ounce to about 512 ounces, and every size therebetween, every range of sizes therebetween, and ranges from any size therebetween to almost zero. Such sizes therefore include, for example: about one half-pint, about one pint, about one quart, about two quarts, and about one gallon. Such ranges therefore include, for example, from about one quarter pint to about one gallon or to about two quarts. Such ranges therefore include, for example about 5 ounces to about 20 ounces.

Various features may be incorporated into containers for food uses. For example, a vent for microwaving may be present on a cover or a container to allow gas from the container interior to escape after being heated. And, for example, indicia for a day of the week may be added, e.g., as semispherical buttons or bulges on a cover that may be depressed to indicate a day of the week, or other date.

Other embodiments are directed to containers for general purpose storage. While food grade plastics may advantageously be used to provide for many potential uses, other materials may be used, e.g., non food-grade engineering plastics, or non-plastics. Such containers may be provide in a range of sizes, e.g., from 8 ounces to 50 gallons, or even more. A category of general purpose containers familiar to retail shoppers are in the range of 10-30 gallons, e.g., about 1 or 2 feet on a side, stackable when covered, with built-in covers and snap-on lids. Containers may have detachable covers that are storable on the sides or bottom of the containers, as described herein, or may have detachable covers that are stored inside the containers while the containers are nested with each other. The association between the covers and the containers advantageously minimizes logistical challenges for sellers that must shelve both the containers and covers. For example, large retailers such as KMART, WALMART, and TARGET carry general purpose storage containers that are shelved in proximity to their covers. The user must find a suitable cover and match it to the container, and the retailer must stock the cover and the container separately on the shelves.

Examples of containers include containers used for general purpose storage. Some containers are plastic, while others are, e.g., metal, steel, glass, tempered glass, PYREX-style glass, wood, wood-plastic composites. Indeed, the use of closures disposable between nesting containers is applicable to wide varieties of containers. Reversible expandable coverings may be plastic or other materials, e.g., metal, steel, glass, tempered glass, PYREX-style glass, wood, wood-plastic composites. General purpose storage containers may be, for example, sealing, non-sealing, or water-tight-sealing. They may be equipped with the various features described herein, e.g., gaskets, latches, handles (inset into the container walls or projecting from the walls), vents, date indicia, detents, elastomeric portions.

In one embodiment, a retail display unit is provided with a plurality of nested or nestable containers that have cover stored inside and/or under each container and/or between containers. In use, for example, a consumer chooses a container, removes the container from the shelf or other display unit, and finds the cover inside or otherwise attached to the container. The consumer may take the container from a nested stack of containers. Or, for example, a retailer may place a set of nested containers that each have a covering associated with the container on a support surface of a display unit, e.g., a shelf, rack, or table for retail display, with the cover-container association being a cover place under each container, a cover placed inside each unit, or at least some of the covers being placed between the containers while they are nested.

In another embodiment, a storage area is used to store a plurality of nested or nestable containers that have a cover stored inside and/or under each container and/or between containers. In use, for example, a user chooses a container, removes the container from the storage area, and finds the cover inside or otherwise attached to the container. The user may take the container from a nested stack of containers. Or, for example, a user may place a set of nested containers that each have a covering associated with the container on a storage unit, e.g., a shelf, rack, or table for storage, with the cover-container association being a cover place under each container, a cover placed inside each unit, or at least some of the covers being placed between the containers while they are nested. For example, warehousing operations, order fulfillment centers, and other business storage applications will benefit from the easy association of the lids and containers. The advantages of such a process are particularly realized when a variety of containers and coverings are used.

Industrial containers are also contemplated. Many containers are known for various shipping, storage, warehousing, picking, and packing purposes. The use of foldable or otherwise reversibly expandable coverings is generally applicable to containers in a wide variety of circumstances. The container/closure combinations may be sold with or without other contents. Various items may be placed in the containers, including food (for human or pet consumption), drink, crafts, office supplies, and industrial goods.

Container is a term that includes a container that fully encloses a space, or partially encloses a space. Certain embodiments involve the use of containers that have a shape that encloses a space on all sides except for an opening that is to be covered by a covering. A closure refers to a structure or device designed to close off the opening of a container and prevent loss of its contents. Closures may involve various means of securing the closure to the container, e.g., fasteners, friction fit, threads, ribs, force-fit, and other means known to artisans in these fields. The term cover or covering refers to a closure for the largest opening in a container. Containers, besides having an opening for the primary covering, may further have other openings, including sealable openings. An example of a sealable opening is an opening in the container intended to be sealed with a cap or bung. For example, certain container embodiments may be equipped with sealable microwave vents. An example of a non-sealable opening is a hole in a container that is not intended to be sealed, so as to provide drainage and/or ventilation of the crate contents, e.g., holes in a produce crate.

Containers, closures, and sections of the containers may be assembled from materials that are used for conventional containers. Such materials include, for example, woods, plastics, ceramics, cloths, textiles, fabrics, weaves, and metals. Plastics include, for example, polyethylene, polycarbonate, polyvinylchloride, high density polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polytetrafluoroethylene, polyurethane, silicones, and various elastomers. Containers for food storage should be made of food grade materials that do not undesirably contaminate the food with undesirable substances.

In some embodiments, the cover and the nestable container are made of a class of material(s) that consist essentially of polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer, or a combination thereof. Alternatively, such container may be made of at least about 50%, 70%, 80%, 90%, or 95% w/w of particular materials, e.g., polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer, or a combination thereof. One reason for using these materials in the weight or combination specified is to make a reusable container.

The containers and coverings may be reusable. Reusable refers to a structure that allows a user to use a container to hold items a first time, to place empty containers into a storage position, and to again use the container to store an item. A variety of single-use food containers are known that are intended to be used once, and thrown away. Makers and users of these products can distinguish between reusable and disposable containers. Moreover, some embodiments are a reusable container and/or a lid made of materials that do not include paper, or have less than 50%, 75%, or 90% paper by weight. The term paper is intended to include, for example, materials processed to include wood or plant portions.

Containers include rigid containers. A rigid container essentially maintains its shape when items are placed within it; for example, a bucket, a carton, a milk jug, or a box. A rigid container does not typically to tend to conform its shape to accommodate the items placed within it. A rigid container may have an elastic portion but still retain its classification as a rigid container because the elastic member does not typically conform to the items within it, even though the elastic member may sometimes bend or be displaced. For example, many consumers are familiar with plastic food storage bags dispensed from rolls that are not shape stable, e.g., those bags popularly referred to as sandwich bags or freezer bags.

In some embodiments, the closure may be stored on the bottom or a side of the container without occluding the opening. In general, an increase in surface area in a reversibly deformable covering is associated with convenience in storage, since a small covering may be conveniently stored. This increase, however, is, in general, often offset by an increased force for use, which is less convenient for a user. Further, an increase in elasticity is often accompanied by changes to other material properties, such as hardness, tackiness, and toughness. The balancing of these factors can be achieved by using design principles described herein in association with consideration of the properties of the materials that are chosen.

Sets of containers having hinged closures and/or hingedly attached closures (e.g., coverings) may be assembled. The closures may be disposed between the containers while the containers are nested with each other. The number of containers in such a set may be, e.g., at least 2, at least 3, at least 4, or at least 5. Or, for example, the number of such containers may be between 2 and 10, or between, e.g., 3 and 8. The set may have one closure per container. Alternatively, the number of closures may be more or less than the number of containers, e.g., as when providing a closures that fits many sizes of containers. The containers may be similar to each other in size and shape, e.g., essentially identical, or essentially identical for nesting purposes. The containers may all have openings that are essentially the same size, e.g., having the same dimensions, e.g., length, width, or diameter. Alternatively, variously sized containers may be used in the set. The closures may be essentially identical to each other, e.g., having essentially the same dimensions, e.g., length, width, or diameter, or may be variously sized. Sets of nested containers may be packaged with the containers in a nested position. Many types of packaging may be used, e.g., cardboard or shrink-wrap.

In certain embodiments, a storage apparatus may have a plurality of containers and coverings, e.g., two, three, four, five, six, or between 3 and 20, or more. The coverings and containers may be joined by hinges. The containers may have openings defined by sides joined to a bottom 120.

FIG. 1A depicts a storage device 1100 having a container 1102 and a cover 1104 in a covering position 1108. Cover edges 1112 mate with container rim 1114. Cover 1104 has a first portion 1116 and second portion 1118 joined by bendable member 1110. FIG. 1B depicts cover 1104 disposed in storage position 1106 by bending of bendable member 1110. The cover fits within container 1102. FIG. 1C is a cross section of the container of FIGS. 1A and 1B, and shows how cover 1104 in storage position 1106 can be placed in container 1102 while it is nested with identical containers. Cover 1104, in position 1106, takes up less than about 20% of the volume of container 1104. A user may fold cover 1104 into position 1106, rotate it about 90 degrees in the plane parallel to the portions 1116, 1118, and place cover 1104 into container 1102. Container 1102 may then be nested with other containers with cover 1102 disposed between the containers.

FIGS. 2 and 3 depict storage device 1200 with (optionally reusable) container 1202 and (optionally reusable) cover 1204 for reversibly covering the container, with cover 1204 having first portion 1206 joined to second portion 1208 by reversibly bendable joint 1210. Cover 1204 is bendable at bendable joint 1210 (in this case, a living hinge) to fit within a volume defined by filling the container about 20%, 40%, or 60% full of water (not shown), wherein the container comprises rim 1212 that defines opening 1214 that is coverable by cover 1204. Sealing member 1216 projects from rim 1214 to form a seal with the cover (not shown) at a point 1218 where the bendable joint 1210 intersects rim 1212. Sealing member 1216 does not extend around the entirety of the rim. Point 1218 is determined by determining where the bendable member of the cover intersects the rim of the tub. In the case of a bendable joint that is a hinge (which is straight), the point is found where the “line” of the hinge crosses the rim. In the case of a bendable joint that is a flexible member, the point is defined by the overlap of the bendable joint with the rim. FIG. 2 further depicts a fastener having a first male member 1220 that projects from cover 1204 and second female member 1222 that receives male member 1220 to fasten portions 1206 and 1208 to each other in a bent storage position. Sealing member 1216 may be, for example, molded-into or pressed into the rim. A user may place cover 1204 onto container 1202. Cover 1204 seals against container 1202, with sealing member 1218 sealing at point 1218. Cover 1204 may be detached from container 1202 and bent to have a fold along bendable joint 1210, and may further engage the cover's fastener by pressing male fastener member 1220 into female member 1222, which is depicted as an indentation. Alternatively, the male member and female members could have various other complimentary shapes, e.g., oval/oval indentation, or flange/indentation to receive flange. Alternatively, the fastener could have two members that project from the cover surface and frictionally engage each other when pressed together, or have complimentary tabs/grooves for fastening.

FIG. 4A depicts device 1300 with container 1302 joined to cover 1304 that has first portion 1306 joined to second portion 1308 by bendable joint 1310 (in this case, a double living hinge), and having a fastener with a first portion 1312 (in this case, a loop) that is bendable to engage fastener portion 1314. Cover 1304 further has skirt 1316 for engaging container 1304. Reference character 1318 indicates where the bendable member intersects the rim of the container. Tab 1320 projects outwards to provide for easier opening and closing of the container. FIG. 4B depicts container 1302 having rim 1322 that defines opening 1324. Sealing members 1324 project from rim 1322 and are shaped to mate with corresponding features on the cover. In this case, sealing members 1324 are the same material as container 1302; alternatively, they could be augmented with, or replaced by, an elastomeric material, e.g., silicone, rubber, a thermoplastic elastomer, ENGAGE, or SANTOPRENE. FIG. 4C depicts cover 1304, with inside 1328 being depicted and inner skirt 1326 being visible. Portion 1330 mates with sealing member 1324 to form a seal. Cover 1304 thus could form a seal with container 1302 to prevent passage of water, with portions 1330 and sealing member 1324 sealing at point 1318 where bendable joint 1310 meets the container's rim. This device has folding and nesting features described with respect to the embodiment of FIG. 1. Users may fold cover 1304 and bend fastener portion 1312 (a loop) to engage fastener portion 1314 (a tab) to thereby keep cover 1304 in a folded position.

FIGS. 5 and 6 depict alternative embodiments 1400, 1500 of a cover, with covers 1404, 1504 having portions 1404, 1406 or 1504, 1506 joined by reversibly bendable member 1410 or 1510, with a gasket 1440, 1540 disposed across bendable member 1410, 1510. Fastener with loop 1414, 1514 and member 1412, 1512 that mates with loop 1414, 1514 can be used to fold the cover in half and keep it in the folded position, and counteracts potential bias in bendable member 1410, 1510 causing the covers portions to spring away from each other. In use, skirt 1416, 1516 and inner skirt 1426, 1526 fit over the container's walls (not shown) and gasket 1440, 1540 provides a seal. Note that gasket 1440 is not a complete ring but serves to seal between only portions of two members, i.e., between the cover and container.

FIG. 7 depicts device 1600 with container 1602 and cover 1604 with portions 160, 1608 joined by bendable member 1610. Container 1602 has male locking member 1612 that meets with slot 1616 to form a secure fit and thereby seal the container to the cover at a point 1613 wherein the bendable member 1610 meets the container rim 1614. A user places cover 1604 on container 1602 and presses them together to push 1612 through 1616.

FIG. 8 depicts system 1700 with container 1702 covered by cover 1704 having portions 1706, 1708 joined by bendable joint 1710. Fastener 1712 (in this case, a tab) is movable to engage fastener ribs 1714. A gasket (not shown) may be disposed beneath cover 1704 such that compressive force generated by fastener 1712 after engaging ribs 1714 provides a water-tight seal at a point where the bendable joint intersects the rim of the container. A user places cover 1704 on container 1702 and moves tab 1712 to engage ribs 1714. This device includes the folding and nesting features of FIG. 1.

FIG. 9 depicts system 1800 with container 1802 covered by cover 1804 having portions 1806, 1808 joined by bendable joint 1810 and having fasteners in the form of tabs 1812, 1814. Outer skirt 1816 covers the rim (not shown) of container 1802. Container 1802 has rib 1820. A user places cover 1804 on container 1802 and bends tabs 1812 to engage rib 1820 to provide compressive force. Complementary ribs/tabs (not shown) are provided on the opposite side of the cover/container combination. A gasket may be disposed between container 1802 and cover 1804 to provide enhanced sealing, particularly underneath tabs 1812, 1814 to advantageously provide extra sealing at a point indicated by arrow 1818 where the bendable joint 1810 intersects the rim of container 1802.

FIG. 2A shows another embodiment of a foldable covering. The covering 2000 is shown in a covering position, and may be folded to achieve a projected area smaller than its surface area, whereby the cover is storable between nested containers. Portions 2002, 2004 are made of a relatively inelastic material (e.g., certain grades of polypropylene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, polystyrene) joined by an elastomer (e.g., KRATON, DYNAFLEX, silicone) that forms hinge 2006. The hinge 2006 has portion 2008 that is deformed when the cover 2000 is folded. FIG. 2B shows a detailed view of the indicated area.

FIG. 3 depicts another embodiment of a hinged cover. Cover 3000 has portions 3002, 3004 that are joined by living hinge 3010. Gap 3012 is present in the cover. Gasket 3014 is made of an elastomer that surrounds the edges of cover 3000. The gasket may be removable by a user or permanently joined to the cover.

FIG. 4 shows another hinged cover. Cover 4000 has portions 4002 and 4004 joined by living hinge 4010. A sealing element 4024, preferably made of a thermoplastic elastomer, provides additional sealing between portions 4002, 4004 adjacent to the living hinge 4010, at the point where the portions meet without being hinged together. FIG. 4B shows a sectional view of cover 4000 on container 4003. Detail at 4026 shows a possible sealing arrangement between the container and cover.

FIGS. 5A-15C depict a reversibly deformable closure having a fold. The fold allows the closure to be changed from a storage position to a covering position. The set 5500 of closures and containers has containers 5502 and closures 5504, which may be moved from a storage configuration 5506 to a covering position 5508 by folding the closure along hinge 5510. In use, closures 5504 may be used to cover containers 5502, with closures 5504 being in the covering position 5508. The closures 5504 may be removed from the containers and placed into a folded, or storage, position 5506, by folding them along hinge 5510. The closures 5504 may then be placed inside a container, and the containers nested with each other, with the closures disposed between the nested containers, as shown in FIG. 5B and FIG. 5C. A single hinge has been depicted, but a plurality of hinges may be used, including hinges that are parallel to each other, perpendicular to each other, or a combination thereof. For example, two hinges may be used to divide a closure into approximately three sections so that the outermost two sections may be folded inwards to reduce the projected surface area of the closure. Or, for example, two hinges may be perpendicular to each other and intersect at approximately the center of the closure, so that the closure may be folded approximately into quarters to have a projected surface area about one-fourth of its maximum unfolded area.

A covering may be made with an upper portion joined at about 90 degrees to a side member, e.g., as shown in FIG. 6. A hinge may be created in the upper portion and a break may be created in the side member to accommodate the folding of the hinge. Additional sealing elements may be introduced to cover the break in the side member. In FIG. 6A, a cover 6100 having hinge 6110 along upper cover portion 6124 and break 6126 in side member 6128 has a tab 6130 that is reversibly attachable to the cover 6100 to provide sealing over break 6126. In use, tab 6130 is moved between an open and a sealing position as indicated by the arrow. FIG. 6B shows an alternative embodiment of the tab, with tab 6132 being a thermoplastic elastomer. FIG. 6C shows an alternative embodiment with sealing surfaces 6150′, 6152′ having an elastomeric material for providing a seal in break 6126′.

FIG. 7 shows another embodiment of a storage device. Device 7000 has container 7002 and cover 7004 depicted in a covering position 7008. Living hinge 7010 approximately bisects the top surface of cover 7004, which is joined to side members 7024 that have skirt 7026. Optional tabs 7028 have projections 7030 to fit over flange 7032. Sealing gasket 7034, preferably made of a food grade thermoplastic elastomer, provides a seal between cover 7004 and container 7002, which is particularly advantageous in sealing around break 7036 is sidewall 7024. A sealing structure 7038 may optionally be added to provide extra sealing in break 7036. In use, cover 7004 is used to cover container 7002 to substantially seal the container. The cover 7004 is removed and folded along hinge 7010, the cover 7004 is rotated about 90 degrees in the horizontal, and placed substantially on the bottom interior of container 7002, with the folded cover being substantially parallel to the bottom of the container. Other containers 7002 are then nested with the first container 7002, with the cover 7004 being disposed between them.

FIG. 8 depicts another embodiment of a storage system having nestable containers and hinged covers. System 8000 has a plurality of container-lid combinations (with only one being depicted), with container 8002 having covering 8004 movable between a storage position 8006 and a covering position 8008 with fold 8010 being a living hinge articulatable between the positions. Cover edges 8012 have a small lip (not shown) that fits over the flange 8014. Gasket 8024 provides a substantial seal between container 8002 and cover 8004. The gasket is soft and/or compressible to form a seal, e.g., silicone or a DYNAFLEX thermoplastic elastomer, and may be a food-grade material for food storage applications. Alternatively, gasket 8014 may be positioned on the cover instead of the container. Further, gasket 8014 may be molded onto the tub or covering by choosing compatible gasket/tub/container materials, e.g., for overmolding, or may be molded with a mechanical interlock on the tub or covering. Tabs 8060 project downwards (as depicted) or outwards (not depicted) to provide for ease of gripping by a user. In use, covering 8004 is removed from container 8002 as shown in FIG. 8B, folded as in FIG. 8C, and placed into container 8004 as in FIG. 8D. Other containers (not shown) are then nested on top of the folded cover. The folded cover 8006 may be unfolded and placed in covering position 8008 on a container to provide a substantial seal.

Embodiments with various features have been described herein. Other embodiments may combine these features, which are intended to be mixed-and-matched as suitable for the particular embodiment. These embodiments are intended to convey the spirit of the invention so that persons of ordinary skill in the art can practice the invention in its full scope without being limited to the particular embodiments herein. Further, all publications and patent applications described herein are hereby incorporated herein by reference.

Exemplary Embodiments

    • 1. A (food) storage apparatus having a container with an opening and a covering reversibly deformable between a storage position and a covering position for covering the opening, the apparatus comprising:
      • a (food) storage container having an opening and being nestable with other containers of identical size and shape,
      • a reversibly deformable covering for covering the opening in a covering position that is detachable from the container and is reversibly deformable from the covering position to a storage position,
        • wherein the covering has a projected surface area in the storage position that is less than a projected surface area of the covering in the covering position such that the covering is storable inside the container while other containers of identical size and shape are nested in the container, and
        • wherein the covering comprises a reversibly fastenable fastener that, when fastened, prevents movement of the covering from the storage position to the covering position.
    • 2. The apparatus of embodiment 1, wherein the reversibly deformable covering comprises an elastic material for reversibly deforming the covering.
    • 3. The apparatus of embodiment 1, wherein a projected surface area of the reversibly deformable covering is increased by at least about 25% when the covering is disposed over an opening compared to the projected surface area of the covering in a storage position.
    • 4. The apparatus of embodiment 1, wherein the container and the covering are made only of materials that are food grade materials.
    • 5. The apparatus of embodiment 1, wherein the covering comprises a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, wherein the first portion is reversibly fastenable to the second portion by the fastener when the bendable joint is bent and the cover is detached from the container.
    • 6. The apparatus of embodiment 5 wherein the covering, with the first portion fastened to the second portion by the fastener, fits within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water.
    • 7. The apparatus of embodiment 5 wherein the fastener comprises two parts, with a first part disposed on the first portion of the cover and the second part disposed on the second portion of the container.
    • 8. The apparatus of embodiment 1 wherein the fastener comprises a loop.
    • 9. The apparatus of embodiment 1 wherein the fastener comprises an invagination disposed on the covering.
    • 10. The apparatus of embodiment 1 further comprising a latching mechanism for latching the covering and the container together.
    • 11. The apparatus of embodiment 1, wherein the container can be filled at least about 20% full of water.
    • 12. A storage device comprising:
      • a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the cover comprising a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, and with the cover being bendable at the bendable joint to fit within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water, wherein the cover comprises a gasket for forming a reversible seal with the container.
    • 13. The device of embodiment 12 wherein the first portion and the second portion comprise rigid plastic.
    • 14. The device of embodiment 12 wherein the container comprises a rim that defines an opening that is covered by the cover and the seal is formed by the gasket at a point between the rim and the bendable joint.
    • 15. The device of embodiment 12 wherein the cover comprises a reversible fastener and the first portion is reversibly fastenable to the second portion by the fastener when the bendable joint is bent and the cover is detached from the container.
    • 16. A storage device comprising:
      • a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the cover comprising a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, and with the cover being bendable at the bendable joint to fit within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water,
      • wherein the container comprises a rim that defines an opening that is covered by the cover and a sealing member projects from the rim to form a seal with the cover at a point where the bendable joint intersects the rim, and the sealing member does not extend around the entirety of the rim.
    • 17. The device of embodiment 16 wherein the sealing member comprises a silicone rubber or a thermoplastic elastomer.
    • 18. The device of embodiment 16 wherein the sealing member comprises the same material as the rim, and comprises a shape to mate with the point to form the seal.
    • 19. The device of embodiment 16 wherein the cover comprises a reversible fastener and the first portion is reversibly fastenable to the second portion by the fastener when the bendable joint is bent and the cover is detached from the container.

Claims

1. (canceled)

2. A storage apparatus having a container with an opening and a covering reversibly deformable between a storage position and a covering position for covering the opening, the apparatus comprising:

a storage container having an opening and being nestable with other containers of identical size and shape,
a reversibly deformable covering for forming a substantially water-tight seal with the opening in a covering position, the covering being detachable from the container and reversibly deformable from the covering position to a storage position,
wherein the covering has a projected surface area in the storage position that is less than a projected surface area of the covering in the covering position such that the covering is storable entirely within the container while other containers of identical size and shape are nested in the container, and
wherein the covering comprises a reversibly fastenable fastener that, when fastened, prevents movement of the covering from the storage position to the covering position.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the reversibly deformable covering comprises an elastic material for reversibly deforming the covering.

4. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the reversibly deformable covering comprises a hinge for reversibly deforming the covering.

5. The apparatus of claim 4 wherein the fastener comprises two parts, with a first part disposed on a first portion of the covering and a second part disposed on a second portion of the covering, with the hinge demarking separation of the first portion of the covering from the second portion of the covering.

6. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein a projected surface area of the reversibly deformable covering is increased by at least about 25% when the covering is disposed over an opening compared to the projected surface area of the covering in a storage position.

7. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein the covering fits entirely within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water.

8. A storage device comprising:

a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container to form a reversible and substantially water-tight seal between the cover and the container, with the cover comprising a first portion comprising rigid plastic joined to a second portion comprising rigid plastic by a reversibly bendable joint, and with the cover being bendable at the bendable joint to fit entirely within a volume defined by filling the container about 40% full of water;
wherein the device further comprises a gasket that participates in the seal when the cover is covering the container.

9. The device of claim 8 wherein the gasket is attached to the cover when the cover and the container are separated.

10. The device of claim 8 wherein the gasket is attached to the container when the cover and the container are separated.

11. The device of claim 8 wherein the container comprises a rim that defines the opening and the gasket is disposed at a point between the rim and the bendable joint when the cover is sealed to the container.

12. The device of claim 111 wherein the gasket is not a complete ring.

Patent History

Publication number: 20060254948
Type: Application
Filed: Jul 28, 2006
Publication Date: Nov 16, 2006
Inventors: Curtis Herbert (Saint Paul, MN), Louis Polk (Excelsior, MN), Jason Ness (Chanhassen, MN)
Application Number: 11/418,809

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: 206/518.000
International Classification: B65D 21/00 (20060101);