Title:
Display rack
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A display rack for displaying trailer hitch balls is disclosed. The display rack includes a first elongated member, where the first elongated member includes a first portion, and a second portion; a second elongated member, which is approximately parallel to the first elongated member and includes a first portion and a second portion; and a connector member, which is coupled on a first end to the first portion of the first elongated member and coupled on a second end to the first portion of the second elongated member. The first elongated member and the second elongated member are spaced apart in a manner that accommodates the display of at least one trailer hitch ball.



Inventors:
Recknagel, Jim (Delafield, WI, US)
Ginet, Olivier (Chicago, IL, US)
Sheridan, Michael (Lake Villa, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/123797
Publication Date:
06/01/2006
Filing Date:
05/06/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47F5/08; A47B81/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NOVOSAD, JENNIFER ELEANORE
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CALFEE HALTER & GRISWOLD, LLP (800 SUPERIOR AVENUE, SUITE 1400, CLEVELAND, OH, 44114, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A rack for displaying trailer hitch balls comprising: a) a first elongated member comprising: i) a first portion, and ii) a second portion; b) a second elongated member, approximately parallel to the first elongated member and comprising: i) a first portion, and ii) a second portion; c) a connector member, coupled on a first end to the first portion of the first elongated member and coupled on a second end to the first portion of the second elongated member; and d) wherein the first elongated member and the second elongated member are spaced apart in a manner that accommodates the display of at least one trailer hitch ball.

2. The rack of claim 1, wherein a cross-section of the first elongated member is circular.

3. The rack of claim 1, wherein a cross-section of the second elongated member is circular.

4. The rack of claim 1, further comprising a layer covering at least a portion of an exterior surface of the first elongated member.

5. The rack of claim 1, further comprising a layer covering at least a portion of an exterior surface of the second elongated member.

6. The rack of claim 1, wherein the connector member is connected to the first and second elongated members in a manner that provides for the spacing between the first and second elongated members to be altered.

7. The rack of claim 1, wherein the lengths of the first and second elongated members are adjustable.

8. The rack of claim 1, further comprising a securing member; wherein the securing member is coupled to the second portion of the first elongated member and the second portion of the second elongated member; further wherein the securing member can couple the display rack to an object.

9. The rack of claim 8, wherein the first portions of the first and second elongated members are horizontally lower than the second portions of the first and second elongated members when the rack is coupled to an object.

10. The rack of claim 1, further comprising a front plate; wherein the front plate is coupled to the connector member; further wherein the front plate can accommodate the display of information.

11. The rack of claim 1, wherein the first and second elongated members are rigid bars.

12. A rack for displaying trailer hitch balls comprising: a) a u-shaped frame comprising: i) a first portion, ii) a second portion, and iii) a third portion; wherein the first portion and the second portion are approximately parallel to one another and the third portion is positioned between the first and second portions; further wherein the first and second portions are spaced apart in a manner to accommodate at least one trailer hitch ball.

13. The rack of claim 12, wherein a cross-section of the frame is circular.

14. The rack of claim 12, further comprising a layer covering at least a portion of an exterior surface of the frame.

15. The rack of claim 12, wherein the lengths of the first and second portions of the frame are adjustable.

16. The rack of claim 12, further comprising a securing member coupled to the frame, wherein the securing member can couple the display rack to an object.

17. The rack of claim 16, wherein a first end of the frame is horizontally lower than a second end of the frame when the rack is coupled to an object.

18. The display rack of claim 12, further comprising a front plate; wherein the front plate is coupled to a first end of the frame; further wherein the front plate can accommodate the display of information.

19. The rack of claim 12, wherein the frame is constructed from a rigid bar.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED PATENT APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/521,503 filed on May 7, 2004, the entire specification of which is hereby incorporated in its entirety.

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present application relates to display racks, and more specifically to display racks for trailer hitch balls.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Trailer hitch balls refer to a variety of apparatuses that are designed to connect or attach to vehicles to provide the vehicle with a mechanism for towing. Trailer hitch balls are normally constructed or fabricated from metal and can be heavy and cumbersome to handle, store, and display. There exists a need for an apparatus and method that provides for conveniently holding and displaying trailer hitch balls.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

A rack for displaying trailer hitch balls is disclosed. The rack includes a first elongated member, where the first elongated member includes a first portion, and a second portion; a second elongated member, which is approximately parallel to the first elongated member and includes a first portion and a second portion; and a connector member, which is coupled on a first end to the first portion of the first elongated member and coupled on a second end to the first portion of the second elongated member. The first elongated member and the second elongated member are spaced apart in a manner that accommodates the display of at least one trailer hitch ball.

In another embodiment, a rack for displaying trailer hitch balls includes a u-shaped frame comprising a first portion, a second portion, and a third portion. The first portion and the second portion of the frame are approximately parallel to one another and the third portion is located between the first and second portions. The first and second portions are spaced apart in a manner to accommodate trailer hitch balls.

DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

The present invention will be more fully understood by reference to the following detailed description of the invention and the accompanying drawings. The drawings represent exemplary embodiments of the present invention and are included for illustrative purposes in order to facilitate understanding of the description. Other embodiments of the present invention contemplated by the description are included within this application to the extent they fall within the scope of the disclosure.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a display rack, with conventional trailer hitch balls shown in phantom for example;

FIG. 2 is a side view of the display rack in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a top view of the display rack shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a exploded view of a reversible coupling arrangement;

FIG. 5 is an perspective view of another display rack, with trailer hitch balls shown in phantom;

FIG. 6 is a side view of the display rack in FIG. 5; and

FIG. 7 is a top view of the display rack in FIG. 5.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

While the described embodiments herein are presented in the context of display racks for trailer hitch balls, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that the present invention may be used to display a number of different items. The examples presented in this disclosure are intended to illustrate the broad application of the invention for display racks. The specific design and operation of the display racks selected provide no limitation on the present invention.

An embodiment of a display rack 10 is shown in FIGS. 1 through 3. The display rack 10 is designed to hold and display trailer hitch balls 12. Trailer hitch balls 12 generally take the form of a sphere shaped portion 14 of material, known as a ball, attached to a stem or shaft 16 of a smaller diameter. The stem or shaft 16 is normally a threaded rod that can be connected or secured, either directly or indirectly, to a vehicle. Once the trailer hitch ball is secured to a vehicle, an object to be towed by the vehicle can be attached and secured to the ball 14.

Referring to FIG. 1, this embodiment of a display rack 10 includes a first elongated member 18, a second elongated member 20, and a connector member 22. The first and second elongated members 18, 20 are situated to be approximately parallel to one another. The first and second elongated member 18, 20 have forward portions 24, 26 and rearward portions 28, 30. The connector member 22 serves to connect the first and second elongated members 18, 20. The connector member 22 is coupled proximate to the forward portions 24, 26 of the first and second elongated members 18, 20. The connector member 22 is coupled to the first and second elongated members 18, 20 in a manner that constructs an approximately unshaped frame. The method of coupling can be any method that produces a rigid connection between the connector member 22 and the first and second elongated members 18, 20. Examples of methods of coupling include, but are not limited to, welding components together; using adhesive to bond components together; using fasteners, such as clamps or nuts and bolts, to fasten components together; and creating a forced or friction fit though notches and tabs.

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 3, the elongated members 18, 20 are approximately parallel and spaced apart in a manner to accommodate the display of trailer hitch balls 12. The distance between the elongated members 18, 20 is less than the diameter of the ball 14, but greater than the diameter of the stem 16. In this configuration, the trailer hitch ball 12 can be placed into the display rack 10 by passing the stem or shaft portion 16 through the top of the opening between the elongated members 18, 20 until the ball 14 comes into contact with the elongated members 18, 20, which serve as rails to hold the hitch ball 12. The elongated members or rails 18, 20 are typically long enough to hold several hitch balls 12. FIG. 1 shows two hitch balls 12, in phantom, held and displayed in a display rack 10.

The first and second rails 18, 20, can be tubular or rod-like members. While the rails can be any general shape, it is preferred that the cross-section of the rails be generally circular or elliptical in order to avoid hard corners that could scratch or damage the hitch balls 12. Optionally, an outer surface of the rails can be coated or padded with a soft coating or material, such as rubber or plastic, to further protect the hitch balls 12 from scratches and damage.

A securing member 32 can be coupled proximate to rearward portions 28, 30 of the rails 18, 20. The securing member 32 can serve to secure or mount the display rack 10 to an object 34. As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the securing member or mounting bracket 32 may be a u-shaped bracket that fits over a square tube or hang-rail 34 to support the display rack 10 in an approximately horizontal position. The u-shaped mounting bracket 32 may create a friction fit with the hang-rail 34. The square cross-sectional shapes of the u-shaped mounting bracket 32 and hang-rail 34 provide contact surfaces to prevent rotation of the display rack 10. Other methods of securing or attaching a display rack to an object include, but are not limit to, holes in a securing member through which fasteners can be placed, tabs extending from a securing member that can be placed into preformed holes in an object, and clamping devices integrated into a securing member. The hang-rail 34 may be included as part of the display rack 10 or as a separate component.

As best shown in FIG. 2, the display rack 10 may be configured in a manner so that when the display rack 10 is secured or mounted to an object 34 the forward portions 24, 26 of the display rack 10 are positioned lower than rearward portions 28, 30 of the display rack 10. One method of achieving this orientation is to make a u-shaped mounting bracket 32 larger than a hang-rail 34. When the mounting bracket 32 is larger than the hang-rail 34 the mounting bracket 32 will rotate slightly with respect to the hang-rail 34, causing the forward portions 24, 26 of the rails 18, 20 to drop below the rearward portions 28, 30 of the rails 18, 20. Another method of achieving this orientation is through the method of coupling a securing member 32 to the rails 18, 20. As is shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, one method of coupling the securing member 32 to the rails 18, 20 is by bending sections 36, 38 of the rearward portions 28, 30 of the rails 18, 20 upward and welding those sections 36, 38 to the securing member 32. If the sections 36, 38 are bent at an angle α that is greater than ninety degrees, the rails 18, 20 will angle downward from the mounting bracket 32, causing the forward portions 24, 26 of the rails 18, 20 to be positioned lower than the rearward portions 28, 30 of the rails 18, 20 when the display rack 10 is secured to an object 34.

When the display rack 10 is configured so that the forward portions 24, 26 are positioned below the rearward portions 28, 30, a hitch ball 12 placed in the display rack 10 will be encouraged to slide towards the forward portions 24, 26 of the display rack 10 due to gravitational force. When a plurality of hitch balls 12 are added to the display rack 10, the result is the plurality of hitch balls 12 are positioned proximate to the forward portions 24, 26 of the rails 18, 20 leaving open space available near the rearward portions 28, 30 of the rails 18, 20. In this circumstance, it is helpful to have coatings or materials applied to the outside surface of the rails 18, 20 to reduce friction coefficients between the rails 18, 20 and hitch balls 12 to assist the sliding action of the hitch balls 12 towards the forward portions of the rails 24, 26.

The display rack 10 can be designed to allow for the spacing between the first and second rails 18, 20 to be adjusted. The ability to adjust the distance between the rails 18, 20 allows a display rack 10 to accommodate a variety of different sized trailer ball hitches. A method for facilitating the adjustment of the rails 18, 20 is to design reversible couplings between the rails 18, 20 and the connection member 22 and the securing member 32. As illustrated in FIG. 4, an example of a reversible coupling is a tab 46 fashioned at the forward portion of a rail 26 which is positioned into a receiver 48 that is attached to the connector member 22. A connector member 22 can have a series of receivers 48, each of which produces a unique spacing between the first and second rails 18, 20 when in use. Tabs can be fashioned at the rearward portions of the rails 28, 30 and a series of receivers, which match the receivers 48 on the connector member 22, can be attached to the securing member 32. The combination of the forward and rearward tabs and receivers attached to the connector member 22 and securing member 32 can serve to produce a series of finite spacings between the first and second rails 18, 20. The above example of a system to adjust the spacing of the rails is exemplary only and any method or structure that produces multiple spacings between the first and second rails 18, 20, while maintaining rigid connections between the connector member 22, the securing member 32, and the rails 18, 20, is incorporated into the present invention.

Another embodiment of a display rack 50 is shown in FIGS. 4 through 6. In this embodiment, an integral piece is bent to form a u-shaped frame 52. The frame 52 includes a first portion 54, a second portion 56, and a third portion 58. The first and second portions 54, 56 form two approximately parallel rails, while the third portion 58 is positioned between the first and second portions 54, 56 and serves to connect these approximately parallel portions 54, 56. Alternatively, the frame may be bent so that the first and second portions 54, 56 are not parallel. The u-shaped frame 52 can be manufactured and sized to accommodate different size hitch balls 12. For example the frame 52 can be sized to accommodate 1⅞ inch hitch balls, 2 inch hitch balls, 2 5/16 inch hitch balls, or any combination thereof.

In the embodiments discussed above, the display racks can be designed to allow for the lengths of the parallel rails or portions to be adjusted. Having adjustable lengths can allow for a rack to be configured to accept a larger or smaller number of hitch balls. An example of a system which could allows adjustment to the length of rails is the use of telescoping tubing. Each rail or section could include a tube nested into a sleeve tube. The nested tube can have several securable positions, each position resulting in a different overall rail length. A nested tube can be secured in a position through the use of a system of pins inserted through holes in the nested and sleeve tubes or through a protrusion and detent system. Another configuration that allows adjustment to the length of the rails is a system that allows for the insertion of an extender portion into a rail. The extender portion can be secured into the rail though a pin and hole configuration or through a detent and protrusion configuration. The above examples of systems for adjusting the length of parallel rails or portions are exemplary only and any method or structure that produces adjustable lengths of rails or portions, while maintaining rigid rails, is incorporated into the present invention.

In the embodiments discussed above, a display rack can be optionally configured to include a label plate. A label plate can be used to provide information regarding the products displayed or stored on the rack. FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate such a label plate 40. In this embodiment the top and bottom edges 42, 44 of the plate are turned in to create a channel into which a card or placard can be inserted and retained. This configuration allows for quick and easy replacement of displayed information.

Another embodiment of the label plate 60 is shown in FIGS. 4 and 5. In this embodiment the label plate 60 is a smooth surface to which a label can be affixed. In other embodiments, the label plate includes a surface that will allow information to be written directly on the plate or include an indented region into which a label can be affixed.

While various aspects of the invention are described and illustrated herein as embodied in combination in the exemplary embodiments, these various aspects may be realized in many alternative embodiments, either individually or in various combinations and sub-combinations thereof. Unless expressly excluded herein all such combinations and sub-combinations are intended to be within the scope of the present invention. Still further, while various alternative embodiments as to the various aspects and features of the invention, such as alternative materials, structures, configurations, methods, devices, and so on may be described herein, such descriptions are not intended to be a complete or exhaustive list of available alternative embodiments, whether presently known or later developed. Those skilled in the art may readily adopt one or more of the aspects, concepts or features of the invention into additional embodiments within the scope of the present invention even if such embodiments are not expressly disclosed herein. Additionally, even though some features, concepts or aspects of the invention may be described herein as being a preferred arrangement or method, such description is not intended to suggest that such feature is required or necessary. Still further, exemplary or representative values and ranges may be included to assist in understanding the present invention however, such values and ranges are not to be construed in a limiting sense.