Title:
Pump actuated sealing system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A container with a secured closure is provided with a sealing system having an inflatable seal. A user actuated pneumatic or hydraulic pump supplies a quantity of air to inflate the seal. When the seal is inflated, a surface of the seal acts against surfaces of the container and the closure to effect a hermetic seal. The air may be selectively released from the inflatable seal by the user of the container to facilitate access to the contents of the container. Conversely, the air may be selectively pumped into the inflatable seal by the user to provide a secure, impermeable seal when the container is closed.



Inventors:
Neuner, Charles P. (Amityville, NY, US)
Application Number:
09/803368
Publication Date:
10/25/2001
Filing Date:
03/09/2001
Assignee:
NEUNER CHARLES P.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
220/239, 215/269
International Classes:
B65D53/00; F16J15/46; (IPC1-7): B65D53/00
View Patent Images:
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20060246338Refilling device for electronic unit with a fuel cellNovember, 2006Haugen et al.
20030146182Bottle bankAugust, 2003Gerke
20070228038IMPROVED STORAGE APPARATUSOctober, 2007Louis
20090188927FLEXIBLE DRINKING CUPJuly, 2009Allen
20100078430DETACHABLE BAMBOO MATERIAL-BASED STORAGE CONTAINERApril, 2010Wang



Primary Examiner:
NGO, LIEN M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Kenyon & Kenyon,Estelle J. Tsevdos (One Broadway, New York, NY, 10004-1050, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A package comprising: a container portion defining a storage chamber, the container portion having a rim defining an opening providing access to the storage chamber; a closure member adapted to substantially close the opening; means for securing the closure member to the container portion; and a sealing system comprising: a seal defining an inflation chamber, at least a portion of the seal expandable in response to addition of a quantity of a fluid medium to the inflation chamber, a surface of the seal adapted to contact in impermeable sealing engagement the rim when the at least a portion of the seal is expanded; inflation means in fluid communication with the inflation chamber and adapted to supply the quantity of the fluid medium to the inflation chamber; and valve means positioned between the inflation chamber and the inflation means, the valve means adapted to retain the quantity of fluid medium in the inflation chamber.

2. The package of claim 1 wherein the inflation means further comprises a pump.

3. The package of claim 1 wherein the valve means further comprises a one-way valve.

4. The package of claim 1 wherein the sealing system further comprises vent means in fluid communication with the inflation chamber and adapted for selectively releasing at least a portion of the quantity of the fluid medium from the inflation chamber.

5. The package of claim 4 wherein the vent means further comprise a valve.

6. The package of claim 4 wherein the fluid medium is selected from one of a gas or a liquid.

7. The package of claim 6 wherein the gas is air.

8. The package of claim 1 wherein the seal is adapted to contact in impermeable sealing engagement the closure member when the at least a portion of the seal is expanded.

9. The package of claim 1 wherein the seal further comprises one of a ring or a disk.

10. The package of claim 1 wherein a cross-sectional shape of the seal is selected from one of a tubular and a U-channel shape.

11. A sealing system for a package having a container portion and a closure member, the container portion defining a storage chamber and having a rim defining an opening providing access to the storage chamber, the closure member adapted to substantially close the opening, the sealing system comprising: a seal defining an inflation chamber, at least a portion of the seal expandable in response to addition of a quantity of a fluid medium to the inflation chamber, the seal having a surface adapted to contact in impermeable sealing engagement the rim when the at least a portion of the seal is inflated; inflation means in fluid communication with the inflation chamber and adapted to supply the quantity of the fluid medium to the inflation chamber; and valve means adapted to retain the quantity of the fluid medium in the inflation chamber.

12. The sealing system of claim 11 wherein the inflation means further comprises a pump.

13. The sealing system of claim 11 wherein the valve means further comprises a one-way valve.

14. The sealing system of claim 11 further comprising vent means for selectively releasing at least a portion of the quantity of the fluid medium from the inflation chamber.

15. The sealing system of claim 14 wherein the vent means further comprise a valve.

16. The sealing system of claim 14 wherein the fluid medium is selected from one of a gas or a liquid.

17. The sealing system of claim 16 wherein the gas is air.

18. The sealing system of claim 1 1 wherein the seal is adapted to contact in impermeable engagement the closure member when the at least a portion of the seal is expanded.

19. The sealing system of claim 1 1 wherein the seal further comprises one of a ring or a disk.

20. The sealing system of claim 11 wherein a cross-sectional shape of the seal is selected from one of a tubular and a U-channel shape.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 1. Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates to a means for sealing a container. In particular the present invention relates to an inflatable seal for use between a closure and a container, and a user actuated pneumatic pressurizing system for inflating the seal.

[0003] 2. Description of the Prior Art

[0004] Typically, package sealing systems utilize fixed or permanently inflated flexible surfaces for sealing closures such as lids, caps, stoppers, etc. The reliability of these types of seals is dependent on a number of factors, including, the flexibility of the seal material, the uniformity and manufacturing tolerances of the container and closure structures against which they bear, and the life cycle of the seal. Manufacturing deviations and irregularities on seal bearing surfaces can affect the reliability of a new or older seal. Structural wear and fatigue encountered over the life of the package can affect the integrity of the seal as the package ages.

[0005] U.S. Pat. No. 4,684,033 to Marcus discloses an apparatus that is said to retard oxidation of a liquid that only partly fills a container. The apparatus has an inflatable bladder that can be expanded within the container to occupy empty space and form a seal against the interior of the container. According to the disclosure, the apparatus has a cap that does not form a seal and that can be essentially an open jig or frame that freely vents the interior of the container. The disclosure indicates that the apparatus is intended to be substituted for a cork of a wine bottle after the bottle has been uncorked and a portion of the contents consumed. Accordingly, the apparatus is not intended to serve as an original closure suitable for use during storage, shipping and handling of the bottle in commerce. In fact, the apparatus occupies so much space in the bottle that it requires the consumption of at least a portion of the contents of the bottle before it can be used.

[0006] U.S. Pat. No. 5,096,078 to McQueeny discloses a container for solid articles (e.g., pills) with a closure assembly incorporating a resilient diaphragm against which a differential pressure is applied to expand the diaphragm such that it contacts the articles to prevent their movement within the container. In one embodiment, the differential pressure is provided by introducing a vacuum to the interior of the container such that atmospheric pressure expands the diaphragm into the container. In another embodiment, the differential pressure is provided by the introduction of high pressure air above the diaphragm to expand it into the container. In either case, it appears that the diaphragm is only intended to be in an expanded condition during storage, shipping and handling, i.e., before it is obtained by the end user. The function of the expanded diaphragm is to prevent movement of solid articles in the container, and to indicate that the container has not been tampered with. After an end user has initially opened the container, allowing the diaphragm to relax, there appears to be no intention to re-expand the diaphragm as this would defeat the tamper-evident function of the relaxed diaphragm. Furthermore, there appears to be no provision for re-expanding the diaphragm.

[0007] U.S. Pat. No. 5,875,795 to Bouix discloses a hollow gasket positioned between a cover and a base of a container. A reservoir may be provided in fluid communication with the hollow gasket. In response to the cover of the container being closed, contents of the reservoir are forced into the hollow gasket to expand the gasket. However, the disclosure indicates that the hollow gasket and the reservoir are sealed so as not to allow the contents to be accessed, i.e., a closed system, thus, after initial charging of the closed system, the degree of expansion or force of expansion cannot conveniently be selected or controlled.

[0008] Accordingly, there is a need for a closure device with an expandable seal that not only protects the product during storage, shipping and handling in commerce, but also is selectively actuatable after purchase by the consumer.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] A sealing system is provided for use in the opening of a container portion of a package. The opening has a closure in the form of a lid, cap, stopper etc. The sealing system has a seal that defines a selectively inflatable chamber (an inflation chamber) for receiving a quantity of air. A user actuated pneumatic or hydraulic pressurizing system, i.e., a pump, supplies ambient air or other fluid medium in sufficient quantity to the inflation chamber to pressurize the sealing system, thus inflating the seal. When the inflation chamber of the sealing system is charged, a surface of the seal, i.e., a pressurized surface, acts against a surface proximal to the opening, i.e., a non-pressurized surface, to effect a hermetic seal. The air or fluid medium may be selectively released from the inflation chamber by the user to facilitate access to the contents of the container, and selectively charged to the inflation chamber by the user to provide a secure, impermeable seal when the container is closed.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0010] FIG. 1 is a sectional, elevation view of a package according to the invention with the closure member removed from the container portion, and with inflation means and seal secured to the closure member;

[0011] FIG. 2 is a sectional, elevation view of the package shown in FIG. 1 with the closure member secured to the container portion;

[0012] FIG. 3 is a sectional, elevation view of the closure member of the package showing an alternative embodiment of the seal;

[0013] FIG. 4 is a sectional, elevation view of the closure member of the package showing another alternative embodiment of the seal;

[0014] FIG. 5 is a sectional, elevation view of an alternative embodiment of the closure member of the package showing an alternative embodiment the seal;

[0015] FIG. 6 is an alternative embodiment of the package with inflation means and seal secured to the container portion;

[0016] FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the package according to the present invention; and

[0017] FIG. 8 is a sectional, elevation view of a closure member according to the invention showing yet another embodiment of the pump and seal.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0018] Referring now to FIGS. 1, 2 and 7, a package according to the invention is shown generally at reference number 2. As used in this description, the terms “up”, “down”, “top”, “bottom”, etc. refer to package 2 when in the orientation illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2, for example, although it will be recognized that the depicted package may be placed in other orientations, and that invention may be incorporated into packages having other orientations. Unless otherwise defined, the terms “inner” and “inwardly” indicate elements, surfaces or movements directed toward or closer to the center of the package, and, conversely, the terms “outer” or “outwardly” indicate elements, surfaces or movements directed away from or further from the center of the package.

[0019] The package 2 comprises a container portion 4 and a closure member 12.

[0020] The container portion 4 has a peripheral wall 5 connecting a closed end 7 and an opposite end 9. The container portion 4 defines a storage chamber 6. At the opposite end 9, the peripheral wall 5 forms a rim 10 that defines an opening 8 which provides access to the storage chamber 6.

[0021] Closure member 12 is dimensioned and adapted to selectively open and close the opening 8. Closure member 12 may be in the form of, for example, a cap, a lid, a cover, a stopper, or means suitable for closing opening 8. The closure member 12 may be separable from the package 2, or the closure member 12 may be movably attached to the package 2 by, for example, a hinge, a tether or other flexible means (not shown). In any case, it will be understood that the closure member 12 can be selectively moved from a first position wherein the opening 8 is substantially closed to a second position wherein the opening 8 affords the user at least minimal access to the contents of the storage chamber 6. This will be accomplished by removing the closure member to a position free from the container portion, or by pivoting an attached closure member away from the opening. The term “substantially closed” will be understood to mean that access to or release of the contents of the storage chamber is substantially limited, but this term as used herein is not intended mean that the closed opening is impervious.

[0022] In the package 2 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the closure member 12 is a cap 25 having a horizontal end wall 13 supporting a depending skirt 11. The cap 25 is secured to the container portion 4 by cooperating threads 14 and 16. It will be understood that other of means may be employed to secure the closure member 12 to the container portion 4, such as, for example, a friction-fit or snap-fit, a lug and channel (e.g., bayonet), a lever, a pin, a latch, a strap, a ball and detent, etc., so long as the means employed is capable of withstanding closure opposing forces generated by the sealing system described in greater detail below.

[0023] A sealing system 18 is provided between the container portion 4 and the closure member 12. The sealing system 18 includes a seal 20 in the form of a hollow tube 21 defining an inflation chamber 22 and having an external surface 60. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the hollow tube 21 is positioned on an inner surface 15 of the end wall 13 of cap 25, to which it may be attached by an adhesive or other suitable means.

[0024] It will be understood that the seal and inflation chamber may take other forms. For example, as shown in FIG. 3, an inflation chamber 122 is defined between a seal 120 in the form of a plenum 121, and the inner surface 15 of end wall 13. An outer edge 123 of the plenum 121 is imperviously secured to an opposing portion of the surface 15 by, for example, adhering with an adhesive, by welding or by bi-injection molding. The plenum has an external surface 160, a portion of which is adapted to contact the rim 10 of the container portion 4 when the seal is inflated. In another alternative construction shown in FIG. 4, an inflation chamber 222 is defined between a seal 220 in the form of a U-section channel 221, and the inner surface 15 of end wall 13. Opposite edges 235, 237 of the channel are imperviously secured to surface 15 by, for example, adhering with an adhesive, by welding or by bi-injection molding. The seal 220 has an external surface 260, a portion of which is adapted to contact the rim 10 of the container portion 4 when the seal is inflated. In FIG. 5, an inflation chamber is defined between a seal 320 in the form of washer-like elastic ring 321 and a groove 17 in inner surface 15 of end wall 13. As in the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, opposite edges 335, 337 of the ring are imperviously secured to surface 15 by, for example, adhering with an adhesive, by welding or by bi-injection molding. A portion of an external surface 360 of the seal 320 is adapted to contact the rim 10 of the container portion 4 when the seal is inflated.

[0025] Referring again to FIGS. 1 and 2, the hollow tube 21 enclosing the inflation chamber 22 is made from an elastic material. Upon the addition under pressure of a suitable fluid medium, such as, for example, ambient air, to the inflation chamber 22, the hollow tube expands. When the air is released from the inflation chamber, the hollow tube relaxes and returns to its pre-inflation dimensions.

[0026] Stated in more general terms, an inflatable portion of the seal 20, i.e., a portion of the seal 20 that substantially corresponds to the dimensions of the inflation chamber 22, is expanded from a first configuration to a second configuration in response to the injection of a quantity of a fluid medium into the inflation chamber from an external source. The entire seal 20 may be resiliently elastic, or the seal 20 will have at least one elastic wall suitably sized and positioned to expand and form the required sealing surface or surfaces. When the inflatable portion of the seal is in the inflated configuration, the external surface 60 of the seal is adapted to contact in impermeable sealing engagement a surface or surfaces of the container portion of the package about or within the rim 10.

[0027] If the seal is dimensioned to completely cover the opening (e.g., a disk-like plenum) and is structurally capable of closing the opening without support from the closure member, the sealing surface need not contact the closure member. Conversely, if the seal is not dimensioned to completely cover the opening (e.g., a ring), and/or is not structurally capable of closing the opening without support from the closure member, portions of the seal 20 must be adapted to contact a surface or surfaces of the closure member proximal to the rim. Where the seal is dimensioned to completely cover the opening, but is not structurally capable of closing the opening without support from the closure member, contact of the seal with the closure member merely provides bearing support for the seal to push toward the container portion of the package, thus contact between the seal and the closure member need not be impervious. Where the seal is not dimensioned to completely cover the container opening, the seal must contact a surface or surfaces of the closure member in impervious sealing engagement to properly seal the storage chamber from the external environment.

[0028] The sealing system 18 further comprises inflation means 34 in fluid communication with the inflation chamber 22. The inflation means 34 are adapted to inject a quantity of air or other fluid medium into the inflation chamber 22 to expand the seal 20. The inflation means 34 preferably comprise a diaphragm-type pump 36 connected to the inflatable seal 20 by a passage 30. A pump of the type that is commonly used in the athletic shoe industry would be suitable for the sealing system and containers contemplated by the invention, e.g., containers for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods or other perishables. Examples of such pumps are disclosed, for example, in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,995,173 to Spier, 5,480,287 to Pozzebon et al. and 5,765,298 to Potter et al., each of which is incorporated herein by reference. The pump can comprise a part of the structure of the sealing system. In particular, the pump can be incorporated into the wall structure of the inflatable portion of the seal, or a portion adjacent to the inflation portion of the seal. Alternatively, the pump can be a separate structure from the seal, connected to the inflation chamber by a conduit or passage.

[0029] As shown in FIGS. 1, 2 and 7, the diaphragm-type pump 36 is mounted externally on the end wall 13 of cap 25. An extension 43 from the pump carries the passage 30 out from the pump and through a bore 47 into the interior of the package to connect to the seal 20. The pump has an actuator 38 in the form of a flexible wall portion that is readily accessible to the user at the surface of the package 2. Alternatively, the actuator 38 could be operated by an actuator member (not shown) such as, for example, a piston, a button, a lever, a cam or a rod that is accessible to the user. Although the pump 36 is shown and described as being mounted on an outer surface of the package in FIGS. 1-5, it could alternatively be substantially enclosed within the structure of the package 2 (see FIG. 6) as long as a clearance 452 is provided in the package 2 to provide access to the pump actuator 438 or actuator member.

[0030] The pump 36 consists of a wall 40 formed into a bladder-like body defining a pump chamber 42. An inlet port 50 is provided in a position in the wall 40 that is accessible to the user. The inlet port 50 provides fluid communication between the pump chamber 42 and the atmosphere outside of the wall 40, thus allowing air from the atmosphere to enter the pump chamber 42. The sealing system 18 is intended to be selectively actuatable by the package user. Accordingly, after the closure member 12 is secured to the container portion 4 of the package 2 by way of the cooperating threads 14 and 16, the pump 36 is actuated by placing a finger over the inlet port 50 on the diaphragm, and pushing inwardly on the diaphragm to compress the bladder-like body. Because the inlet port 50 is covered by the user's finger, air in the pump chamber cannot escape through the inlet port 50, and is pushed out through the passage 30 into the inflation chamber 22 of seal 20. Release of the diaphragm after a compression stroke opens the inlet port 50 to permit the flow of air into the pump chamber from the atmosphere, and allows the bladder to return to its original uncompressed condition. With the bladder in its uncompressed condition and the pump chamber filled with air, the pump is ready for another compression stroke.

[0031] A one-way valve 44 is provided between the pump chamber 42 and the inflation chamber 22 to prevent the flow of air back into the pump chamber from the inflation chamber. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-2, the one-way valve 44 is positioned near the beginning of passage 30. The one-way valve may take the form of a check valve, diaphragm valve, flapper valve, etc., or other means biased to prevent the air or other fluid medium from flowing out of from the inflation chamber back through the pump. A one-way valve could also be substituted for the inlet port 50.

[0032] Alternatively, the inflation means could comprise a supply of fluid medium stored under pressure and a means for delivering the pressurized medium to the inflation chamber. A CO2 or air canister could, for example, supply pressurized gas through conduits and suitable user actuatable valves to the inflation chamber (not shown).

[0033] As indicated above, ambient air is preferred as the fluid medium used for inflating the seal, but the fluid medium may be any suitable type, either liquid or gaseous, that is compatible with the materials from which the sealing system is constructed. Ambient air is contemplated as the preferred fluid medium because it is readily available and compatible with a large number of materials. Furthermore, when the air is released from the inflation chamber to deflate the seal, it can simply be released to the atmosphere from which it came, without the need for complex waste collection systems and without concerns that it might contaminate or otherwise harm the atmosphere or the user upon release.

[0034] The sealing system further comprises vent means 46 for selectively releasing at least a portion of the air from the inflation chamber. The vent means 46 can be a separate valve as shown in FIGS. 1-2, which when manipulated by the user, opens to allow air to escape from the inflation chamber. Alternatively, the vent means could comprise a part of the one-way valve 44, such that manipulation of the one-way valve would permit escape or release of air from the inflation chamber 22. The vent means is adapted to be actuated by the user, thus, a vent means actuator 49 in the form of a button or rod is provided at the surface of the package. The vent means actuator 49 may, for example, be accessible through the port or clearance provided for the pump actuator, or alternatively, through a separate access port or clearance.

[0035] An alternative embodiment of the package is shown generally at 402 in FIG. 6. Package 402 comprises a container portion 404 and a closure member 412. The container portion 404 has a peripheral wall 405 connecting a closed end 407 and an opposite end 409. The container portion 404 defines a storage chamber 406. At the opposite end 409, the peripheral wall 405 forms a rim 410 that defines an opening 408 which provides access to the storage chamber 406. The closure member 412 is a cap 425 having a horizontal end wall 413 supporting a depending skirt 411. The cap 425 is adapted to be secured to the container portion 404 by way of cooperating threads 414 and 416. A sealing system 418 is provided between the container portion 404 and the closure member 412. The sealing system 418 includes a seal 420 in the form of a hollow tube 421 defining an inflation chamber 422 and having an external surface 460. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 6, the hollow tube 421 is positioned on the rim 410 of the container portion 404, to which it may be attached by adhesion or other suitable means. It will be understood that, as described above, the seal and inflation chamber may take other forms. The sealing system 418 further comprises inflation means 434 in fluid communication with the inflation chamber 422. The inflation means 434 are adapted to inject a quantity of air or other fluid medium into the inflation chamber 422 to expand the seal 420. The inflation means 434 preferably comprise a diaphragm-type pump 436 connected to the inflatable seal 420 by a passage 430. The pump 436 will have an actuator 438 in the form of a flexible wall portion that is readily accessible to the user at the surface of the package 402 through an opening or clearance 452 in the surface of the package. The pump 436 consists of a wall 440 formed into a bladder-like body defining a pump chamber 442. An inlet port 450 is provided in a position in the wall that is accessible to the user. The inlet port 450 provides fluid communication between the pump chamber 442 and the atmosphere outside of the wall 440, thus allowing air from the atmosphere to enter and fill the pump chamber 442. After the closure member 412 is secured to the container portion 404 of the package 402 by way of the cooperating threads 414, 416, the pump 436 is actuated by placing a finger over the inlet port 450 to close it, and then pushing inwardly on the actuator 438 to compress the bladder-like body. Air in the pump chamber is pushed out through the passage 430 into the inflation chamber 422 of seal 420. Release of the actuator after compression opens the inlet port 450, permitting the flow of air into the pump chamber from the atmosphere and allowing the wall 440 of the bladder-like body to return to its original uncompressed condition. With the bladder-like body in its uncompressed condition and the pump chamber filled with air, the pump is ready for another compression.

[0036] A one-way valve 444 is provided between the pump chamber 442 and the inflation chamber 422 to prevent the flow of air back into the pump chamber from the inflation chamber. Thus, the seal 420 remains inflated with the external surface 460 of the seal pressed in impervious contact with the rim 410 and the inner surface 415 of the cap 425. The sealing system 418 further comprises vent means 446 for selectively releasing at least a portion of the air from the inflation chamber. The vent means 446 is preferably in the form of a valve which, when manipulated by the user, opens to allow air to escape from the inflation chamber.

[0037] In yet another embodiment, shown in FIG. 8, inflation means 534 is incorporated into the structure of closure member 512. The closure member 512 is a cap 525 having a horizontal end wall 513 supporting a depending skirt 511. The cap 525 is adapted to be secured to the container portion 4 (shown in FIG. 1) by way of thread 516 which is adapted to cooperatively engage thread 14 on the container portion 4. A sealing system 518 is provided between the container portion 4 and the closure member 512. The sealing system 518 includes a seal 520 in the form of a U-section channel 521. An inflation chamber 522 is defined within the U-section of the channel 521, and between the channel 521 and an inner surface 515 of end wall 513. Opposite edges 535, 537 of the channel 521 are imperviously secured to surface 515 by, for example, adhering with an adhesive, by welding or by bi-injection molding. A downwardly opening groove or clearance 517 in inner surface 515 of end wall 513 may be provided to increase the volume of the inflation chamber 522, and to facilitate fluid communication between the inflation chamber and the inflation means 534. It will be understood that, as described above with reference to the other embodiments, the seal and inflation chamber may take other forms. The sealing system 518 includes inflation means 534, which are in fluid communication with the inflation chamber 522, and which are adapted to inject a quantity of air or other fluid medium into the inflation chamber 522 to expand the seal 520. The inflation means 534 preferably comprise a diaphragm-type pump 536 in fluid communication with the inflation chamber 522 by way of a passage 530. The pump 536 has an actuator 538 in the form of a flexible wall portion that is readily accessible to the user at the surface of the closure member 512. The pump 536 consists of an elastic wall 540 covering a upwardly opening cavity 557 in the end wall 513. A perimeter 559 of the elastic wall 540 is imperviously secured to the end wall 513 by, for example, adhering with an adhesive, by welding or by bi-injection molding. In this way, a pump chamber 542 is defined between the elastic wall 540 and the walls of the cavity 557. An inlet port 550 is provided in a position in the wall 540 that is accessible to the user. The inlet port 550 provides fluid communication between the pump chamber 542 and the atmosphere outside of the wall 540, thus allowing air from the atmosphere to enter and fill the pump chamber 542. The pump 536 is actuated to inflate the seal 520 by placing a finger over the inlet port 550 to close the port, and subsequently pushing inwardly on the actuator 538. This expands the elastic wall 540 into the pump chamber 542, and correspondingly reduces the volume of the pump chamber 542. Air in the pump chamber 542 under pressure created by the reduced volume is pushed out through the passage 530 into the inflation chamber 522 of seal 520, thus expanding the seal. After compression of the pump chamber, the actuator 538 is released to open the inlet port 550, permitting air to flow into the pump chamber 542 from the atmosphere, and to allow the elastic wall 540 of the pump to return to its original unexpanded condition. In this condition, the pump is ready for another compression.

[0038] A one-way valve 544 is provided between the pump chamber 542 and the inflation chamber 522 to prevent the undesired flow of air back into the pump chamber from the inflation chamber. The sealing system 518 further comprises vent means 546 for selectively releasing at least a portion of the air from the inflation chamber. The vent means 546 is preferably in the form of valve with a vent actuator 549 which, when manipulated by the user, opens the vent valve to allow air to escape from the inflation chamber 522.

[0039] In each of the foregoing embodiments, the inflation means and the vent means can conveniently be manipulated by the user to increase or decrease the pressure applied by the inflatable seal between the closure member and the container portion. This permits the user to, for example, deflate the seal before removing the closure member, thus significantly easing the effort required remove the closure member while reducing frictional wear on the sealing surfaces. Also, over the life of the package, the seal can be inflated to a greater degree to compensate for increasing gaps and tolerances resulting from wear and tear on the various components. A pressure gauge or indicator (not shown) may be provided on the package for the user to determine the degree of pressure exerted by the seal.

[0040] The container portion and closure member of the package may be made from any one of a number of well known materials such as, for example, glass, metal or plastic, and may be formed by known methods. Preferably, the container and closure are one of numerous well-known packages typically used for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, or other perishable goods. Because the inflatable sealing system is intended to have dimensions that correspond substantially to a typical non-inflatable seal, a known package or closure member can be readily modified to accommodate a sealing system according to the present invention. The modification required may merely involve providing a bore to accommodate the passage 30 from a pump mounted on an outside surface of the package to the hollow seal inside the package (see FIGS. 1-5).

[0041] The sealing system, including the seal, the inflation means and the control means and any connecting and/or supporting structure are preferably made of readily available plastic resin materials that are easily and economically formed and molded. The materials would include hard plastic and elastomeric components that preferably can be integrally formed by bi-injection molding, or separately formed and fastened together by adhesion, sonic welding or other well known methods. The sealing system may be formed separate and apart from the container portion of the closure member. A separately formed sealing system could readily be retrofitted into an existing package structure. Alternatively, the sealing system may be formed integrally with the container portion and/or the closure member.

[0042] The invention is principally intended for use with cosmetic packages to better preserve and extend the shelf life of the contents of the package. However, it will be clear to those skilled in the art that a package with the sealing system according to the invention will also be very well suited for any product that would benefit from an improved hermetic seal. This would include any product which when exposed to the external atmosphere is subject to change due to, for example, the escape from the product of volatile components, or the degradation of labile components in the product. Accordingly, in addition to cosmetics, examples of categories of products that can benefit from the invention include, but are not limited to, pharmaceuticals, foods, toiletries, solvents, coatings (e.g., paints and varnishes), lubricants and fuels, etc.

[0043] While the invention has been described and illustrated as embodied in preferred forms of construction, it will be understood that various modifications may be made in the structure and arrangement of the parts without departing from the spirit and the scope of the invention recited in the following claims.