1. Field of the Invention
A vast majority of soft drinks, fruit juices, beer, wine coolers and other consumable beverages are sold in cans, bottles and other like containers which have been cooled either by refrigeration or immersion in ice cubes or ice water preparatory to being served. Containers cooled by immersion are, of course, wet upon being removed from the cooler and opened. And even if the container is carefully dried, condensation will rapidly form on it if there is any significant temperature differential between the cooled container and the ambient air. Particularly if the surrounding air is hot and humid, such condensation will form rapidly and become quite heavy—heavy enough to run off the container onto the hands and clothing of the individual holding the container or onto a table or other piece of furniture on which the container may be placed. Particularly on fine furniture, a moist or dripping can or bottle can cause considerable damage through water stains, veneer separation, raised grain and discoloration of any table cloths or other coverings.
Traditional coasters, of course, have long been used to protect furniture against the damage caused by moisture from cans, bottles and like containers. Should a container be carried from place to place, however, as is often done, it is difficult to remember to carry a coaster along with the container or otherwise avoid putting the container down on unprotected tables, desks and other articles of furniture. Some traditional coasters were successful in protecting furniture and surfaces for short periods of time, however a buildup of condensate on the coaster surface acted, through surface tension, to bond to the drinking vessel. In these circumstances the coaster would often drop while the drinking vessel was being picked up, creating a larger mess. In some traditional designs the coaster would allow water to pool around the drink container and the water would drip on the furniture surface or on the user.
2. Brief Description of the Related Art
Some traditional coasters have attempted to deal with these issues by being manufactured of various absorbent materials. However they are either disposable, not durable, or not sufficiently absorbent. The result is that traditional coasters either allow dripping when the user lifts the drinking vessel, adhere to the drinking vessel and then drop, become saturated in short time periods, are not sufficiently sturdy to protect furniture or are not durable. Some coasters have effectively dealt with some but not all of these deficiencies.
Some traditional designs have achieved high levels of absorbency and sturdy design. However these designs have complex mechanical designs including “support rods”, “drain openings” (Wilmoth U.S. Pat. No. 4,858,873, Witt U.S. Pat. No. 4,858,872, Laybourne U.S. Pat. No. 5,273,182) or sophisticated composite layered substrate designs (Scheurer U.S. Pat. No. 4,978,566). These complexities make the manufacturing of these coasters complex and results in a costly coaster from a consumer perspective.
Some traditional coaster designs have attempted to resolve these issues and maintain a durable feature by incorporating an absorbent mat material that is easily removed from a durable base. However these coasters have either relied on geometry and fit or frictional force for maintaining the mat material in place (Woodruff U.S. Pat. No. 4,089,498, Blundell U.S. Pat. No. 3,363,869). These designs do not always ensure that the fit or frictional force will overcome the surface tension adhesion as the mat material becomes saturated. In addition, the mat materials employed in these designs either are not durable, not very absorbent or can not be easily replaced by the user while maintaining the existing base. In addition, fit or frictional force designs may be more expensive because of the close manufacturing tolerances necessary.
Further, as beverage industries are highly competitive and dependent on consumer recognition and selection at the point of purchase, there is a substantial demand both by producers and retailers in those industries for coasters that are (1) absorbent to prevent dripping when the drink is removed from the coaster, (2) durable allowing repeated use of the coaster without replacement, (3) sturdy in design protecting the underlying furniture, (4) simple construction allowing for ease of manufacture and cost competitive as compared to traditional coasters, (5) prevents condensation formation to collect on valuable furniture and (6) provide a user replaceable yet durable absorbent pad available in a wide variety of colors, where the absorbent pad consists of a material that will readily accept adornment with letters, emblems, drawings etc.
Over the years, various suggestions have been proposed for solving the problems and meeting the needs discussed above. As far as it is known, however prior to the present invention, no one has been successful in designing, developing or producing a commercially viable coaster that is highly absorbent, durable, will not adhere to drinking vessels during reasonable periods of use, sturdy and capable of protecting surfaces underneath, easily manufactured with a highly absorbent and durable pad that the allows for easy removal and replacement by the user. The absorbent pad readily accepts embroidered designs which act to provide attractive commercial or personal appeal and furthers the function of the coaster by preventing drinking vessel adherence. Other forms of design may also be incorporated onto the absorbent pad.
The coaster body is a highly durable plastic design constructed for holding substantial weights, can be manufactured in different colors and will maintain a precise vertical alignment with the surface upon which the coaster is located. The seating surface is fitted with an absorbent pad through the use of an adhesive layer integral to the absorbent pad.
The adhesive layer is a double sided permanent/removable form of adhesive. The permanent bond side of the adhesive layer is attached to one surface of the absorbent layer using a mild application of pressure, forming a high strength bond. The removable bond side of the adhesive layer is attached to the seating surface of the coaster body using a mild application force.
The seating ring is raised above the seating surface. The support ring raises the main body above a flat solid surface and may be inset slightly from the outside edge of the main body, the inset distance facilitating stacking.
FIG. 1—Provides a top perspective view of coaster illustrating how the absorbent pad  fits onto the seating surface . Section A for FIG. 2 is indicated on the drawing.
FIG. 2—Provides a section A from FIG. 1. This drawing provides details of the arrangement of key elements included in the coaster design.
FIG. 3—Provides a detailed expanded view of the layered design of the absorbent pad .
The present invention provides a new and unique coaster particularly adapted for use with all manner of beverage cans and containers in which soft drinks, beer, fruit juices and other like consumable beverages are chilled and served. The coaster is not only uniquely suited to protect clothing and furniture against soiling and damage from the moisture and condensation usually present on containers of chilled beverages it also is highly durable yet it is capable of being modified by the user to alter is aesthetic characteristics.
The major components of the coaster are the coaster body  and the absorbent pad . The absorbent pad is durable, highly absorbent yet can easily be removed and replaced with an equally absorbent pad of the same design but potentially with different aesthetic designs. The absorbent pad will not inadvertently come off of the coaster base. This prevents the absorbent pad from moving as the drinking vessel moves on and off the coaster as well as during normal handling by users. The absorbent pad will not adhere to drinking vessels because of the nature of the absorbent pad  to coaster body  interface.
These objectives are achieved through a number of features incorporated into the coaster design. First, the absorbent layer  is a unique material for coaster design. This material is composed of a material which provides substantial porosity. The porosity is very small scale and not uniform and results from the interwoven nature of the material. This porosity provides a path for condensate to flow into and be trapped in the absorbent layer  until the condensate evaporates. This action keeps the condensate from building up on the bottom and side surface of the drinking vessel. The material porosity further prevents surface tension which could cause the drinking vessel to adhere to the coaster. The material is highly durable, does not easily stain and can last for an extended period of time. Finally, the material has sufficient strength to accept embroidered designs while retaining its durability and absorbent capability. In the preferred embodiment the absorbent pad  is a 100% synthetic interwoven pad approximately 10 to 125 mil in thickness.
As noted above, the absorbent pad  will not come off of the seating surface  when the drinking vessel is lifted off the coaster. This occurs because of the porosity noted above which reduces surface tension but is also due to the nature of the adhesive layer  and the means by which the layer is integrated into the absorbent pad . Specifically, the selection of the bonding strengths as described below.
The adhesive layer  is a two sided high strength plastic film adhesive with a highly adhesive surface [201a] and a low contact adhesive [201b] surface on the other side. The highly adhesive surface [201a] is pressure fit onto one side of the absorbent layer . The adhesive layer  takes on the shape of the surface of the absorbent layer  following the small surface contours. This results in a highly adhesive bond between the absorbent layer  and the adhesive layer . In the preferred embodiment the adhesive layer is a double-sided permanent/removable high strength thin plastic film approximately 0.5 to 10 mil thickness.
The low contact adhesive surface [201b] is used to form a bond between the seating surface  of the coaster and the absorbent pad . The low contact adhesive surface [201b] is chosen such that it will form a sufficiently strong bond with the seating surface  so as to prevent absorbent pad  movement during use and cleaning of the coaster over repeated uses. The adhesive layer  has also been chosen so that the bonding force between the absorbent pad  and adhesive layer  is much greater than the bonding force between the adhesive layer  and the seating surface . This mismatch allows the coaster user to remove the absorbent pad intact from the seating surface if the pad has become damaged or is to be replaced for aesthetic reasons.
The seating ring  has been raised a sufficient distance above the seating surface  to provide stability to prevent drinking vessels from easily sliding off of the coaster. The seating ring  is attached to the main body , along the outer edge of the main body . In addition, the top of the seating ring  has been raised a sufficient distance above the seating surface  to prevent any condensate from flowing through the absorbent pad  and off the coaster.
The support ring  allows for a very flat contact area with the object upon which the coaster is placed. The support ring  is attached to the main body , slightly inset from the outer edge of the main body . The support ring  further acts to slightly elevate the main body  off of the surface upon which the coaster rests. Depending on the flatness of the surface upon which the coaster is placed, the support ring  will limit free air flow underneath the main body . These features provide for a stable base and minimize any condensation that can form under the coaster on the underlying surface.
In another preferred embodiment, an embroidered design  is included that can be multiple colors and may be designs, drawings, letters etc. The embroidered design  is formed by weaving thread into the body of the absorbent layer . The selection of the proper materials in the absorbent pad  allows for the design to be woven in without destroying the absorbent layers  functionality or shape. In this invention, the novel and unexpected affect of the embroidered design  is that it provides improved functional capability of the coaster. Specifically, as noted in FIGS. 2 and 3, the embroidered design provides a slightly increased undulation on the top surface shape of the absorbent pad . This slight undulation acts to further reduce surface tension forces between the coaster and drinking vessel which tends to completely eliminate cling of the coaster to the underside of the drinking vessel.
While the invention has been described in connection with what are presently understood to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiments, but rather to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements which are included within the spirit and scope of the following claims.