Title:
Lighter with child resistant shielded sparkwheel ignition mechanism
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A sparkwheel lighter with a child resistant flint-type ignition mechanism, which includes in addition to those items commonly found in sparkwheel lighters, a cylindrical sparkwheel supported on an axle for rotation in contact with the flint for producing sparks when the sparkwheel file is rotated with respect to the flint, so that force applied to the thumbwheels to rotate the sparkwheel causes the thumbwheels to tilt over the sparkwheel to prevent direct actuation thereof by a user's thumb.



Inventors:
Huang, Ying Fang (Taichung, TW)
Suzumoto, Mark K. (Westlake Village, CA, US)
Application Number:
10/247902
Publication Date:
03/25/2004
Filing Date:
09/20/2002
Assignee:
HUANG YING FANG
SUZUMOTO MARK K.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F23Q2/16; (IPC1-7): F23D11/36
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
PRICE, CARL D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GEORGE W FINCH (MALIBU, CA, US)
Claims:
1. A lighter with a child resistant spark producing system including: a lighter body; a flint supported by said lighter body; an axle supported by said lighter body, said axle having: at least one non-round cross-section portion having: a maximum diameter; a sparkwheel supported for rotation with said axle in contact with said flint for producing sparks when said sparkwheel and axle are rotated with respect to said flint; a first thumbwheel mounted on said axle adjacent said sparkwheel for rotation with respect to said axle and said sparkwheel; and a second thumbwheel mounted on said axle adjacent said sparkwheel opposite said first thumbwheel having: a peripheral flange extending inwardly toward said sparkwheel and spaced radially therefrom, said peripheral flange forming: a thumb contact outer ring surface having: a center ring surface portion; a non-round bearing surface having: a center bearing portion positioned laterally further from said sparkwheel than said center ring portion; and a minimum diameter about said non-round cross-section portion, said minimum diameter being larger than said maximum diameter, whereby thumb force applied to said thumb contact outer ring causes said second thumbwheel to tilt with respect to said axle so that said peripheral flange covers a portion of said sparkwheel to prevent direct actuation of said sparkwheel by a user.

2. The lighter as defined in claim 1 wherein said sparkwheel is supported on said axle for sliding there along.

3. The lighter as defined in claim 1 wherein said first thumbwheel includes: a peripheral flange extending inwardly toward said sparkwheel and radially spaced therefrom, said peripheral flange forming: a thumb contact outer ring surface having: a center ring surface portion; a non-round bearing surface having: a center bearing portion positioned laterally further from said sparkwheel than said center ring portion; and a minimum diameter positioned about said non-round cross-section portion, said minimum diameter being larger than said maximum diameter, whereby thumb force applied to said thumb contact outer rings causes said first and second thumbwheels to tilt toward each other with respect to said axle so that said peripheral flanges cover portions of said sparkwheel to restrict direct actuation of said sparkwheel.

4. The lighter as defined in claim 3 wherein said axle has: outer axle portions for rotationally engaging said body portion; and a central axle portion of a first length, and wherein said sparkwheel and said non-round bearing surfaces have an assembled minimum width that is less than said first length.

5. The lighter as defined in claim 3 wherein said flint has: a flint diameter, and wherein when said first and second thumbwheels tilt toward each other with respect to said axle, a minimum gap there between is established that is less than said flint diameter.

6. The lighter as defined in claim 1 wherein said axle has: outer axle portions for rotationally engaging said body portion; and a central axle portion of polygonal cross-section.

7. The lighter as defined in claim 6 wherein said central axle portion of polygonal cross-section has: a plurality of flat portions, and wherein said non-round bearing surface includes: an identical number of flat portions as said central axle portion.

8. A lighter with a child resistant spark producing system including: a lighter body; a flint supported by said lighter body; an axle supported by said lighter body, said axle having: a non-round cross-section portion having: a maximum diameter; a cylindrical file supported on said axle for rotation concentrically therewith in contact with said flint for producing sparks when said cylindrical file is moved with respect to said flint; a first thumbwheel mounted on said axle adjacent said cylindrical file so that said first thumbwheel can rotate with respect to said axle and said cylindrical file; and a second thumbwheel mounted on said axle adjacent said cylindrical file so that said second thumbwheel can rotate with respect to said axle and said cylindrical file, said second thumbwheel being mounted opposite said first thumbwheel, said first and second thumbwheels each having: a peripheral flange extending inwardly toward said cylindrical file and radially spaced therefrom, said peripheral flange forming: a thumb contact outer ring surface having: a center ring surface portion; a non-round bearing surface having: a center bearing portion positioned laterally further from said cylindrical file than said center ring portion; and a minimum diameter about said non-round cross-section, said minimum diameter being larger than said maximum diameter.

9. The lighter as defined in claim 8 wherein said cylindrical file is supported on said axle for sliding there along.

10. The lighter as defined in claim 8 wherein said flint has: a flint diameter, and wherein when said first and second thumbwheels tilt toward each other with respect to said axle, a minimum gap there between is established that is less than said flint diameter.

11. The lighter as defined in claim 8 wherein said axle has: outer axle portions for rotationally engaging said body portion; and a central axle portion of polygonal cross-section.

12. The lighter as defined in claim 11 wherein said central axle portion of polygonal cross-section has: a plurality of flat portions, and wherein each of said non-round bearing surfaces of said first and second thumbwheels include: an identical number of flat portions as said central axle portion.

13. The lighter as defined in claim 11 wherein said cylindrical file includes: a polygonal orifice which slides on said central axle portion of polygonal cross-section.

14. The lighter as defined in claim 11 wherein said central axle portion of polygonal cross-section has: a plurality of flat portions, and wherein said non-round bearing surfaces of said thumbwheels each include: a polygonal orifice of a shape similar to said central axle portion of polygonal cross-section.

15. A lighter with a child resistant spark producing system including: a lighter body; a flint supported by said lighter body; an axle supported by said lighter body for rotation with respect to said flint a sparkwheel supported on said axle for rotation against said flint, said sparkwheel being positioned for contact with said flint for producing sparks when said sparkwheel is rotated with respect to said flint, said sparkwheel having: a maximum diameter; first and second thumbwheels loosely mounted on said axle, said first and second thumbwheels each having: a supporting disk having: a central orifice mounted on said axle; a cylindrical flange extending inwardly from said supporting disk having: a minimum diameter larger than said maximum diameter of said sparkwheel; and a peripheral outer surface, whereby said peripheral outer surfaces of said thumbwheels are generally inward of said central orifices so that when force is applied to said peripheral outer surfaces, said thumbwheels lean over said sparkwheel to reduce any direct contact that might occur between an user and said sparkwheel.

16. The lighter as defined in claim 15 wherein said flint has: a flint diameter, and wherein when said first and second thumbwheels tilt toward each other with respect to said axle, a minimum gap there between is established, which is less than said flint diameter.

17. The lighter as defined in claim 15 further including: axle support members extending from said lighter body spaced a distance greater that the total width of said sparkwheel and said supporting disks, whereby said axle support members allow said thumbwheels to tilt inwardly over said sparkwheel.

18. The lighter as defined in claim 17 wherein said axle includes: a polygonal central axle portion having: a plurality of flat portions, and wherein said supporting disks of said first and second thumbwheels include: non-round bearing surfaces with: an identical number of flat portions as said central axle portion.

19. The lighter as defined in claim 17 wherein said flint has: a diameter, and wherein said sparkwheel includes: a width at least as large said flint diameter.

20. The lighter as defined in claim 15 wherein said axle has: a length wider than the total width of said sparkwheel and said thumbwheels.

21. A method of providing child resistance to a spark wheel lighter including: loosely mounting inwardly extending, circumferentially flanged drive wheels adjacent the sides of the sparkwheel so that downward radial force thereon required to produce a spark: causes the flanges to tilt over the sparkwheel; and prevents direct actuation of the sparkwheel by a user's digit.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 1. Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates to a child resistant ignition mechanism for a lighter that makes sparks by rotating a sparkwheel against a flint, and in particular to an ignition mechanism having thumbwheels that shield the sparkwheel from direct actuation and require large downward forces be applied by the user to operatively connect them to the sparkwheel.

[0003] 2. Description of the Related Art

[0004] Some prior art ignition mechanisms have thumbwheels which are separated from the sparkwheel, requiring additional force in a predetermined direction to engage the thumbwheels with the sparkwheels. If properly designed, this increases the difficulty of creating ignition sparks enough so that someone without the intellectual capacity to appreciate the danger of an open flame, cannot produce a flame.

[0005] Ignition mechanisms for gas lighters are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,547,370, 5,759,023, 5,868,561, 5,913,674, 5,971,749, 5,997,281, 6,053,727, and 6,074,198. These systems comprise ignition mechanisms in which two faces, one of the thumbwheel and one of the sparkwheel, are pushed together while the thumbwheel is rotated. When enough force is applied between the thumbwheel and sparkwheel, any rotation of the thumbwheel is coupled to the sparkwheel, which rubs against a flint to generate a shower of sparks. If gas is released when the shower of sparks is present, ignition takes place. Various thumbwheel and sparkwheel engagement mechanisms have been proposed. Further, a system that controls the rotation of a thumbwheel and the engagement of a thumbwheel and a sparkwheel by an elastic member is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,104,313.

[0006] For about a decade U.S. Government regulations have required that inexpensive cigarette lighters whether refillable or disposable, have features that make the production of a flame difficult for small children. Ideally, these lighters would be difficult to operate for someone without the intellectual capability to understand and appreciate the danger of an open flame, but are easily operated by adults. Experience has shown that precocious children can occasionally produce a flame with intellectually challenging child resistant lighters, especially when the operation of the lighter is demonstrated to them on a daily basis by their parents, and when those lighters are thereafter carelessly left where children can experiment with them endlessly.

[0007] To determine whether or not a particular lighter has sufficient resistance to operation by a child, objective tests utilizing surrogate lighters are used with children fifty one months old or younger to assure that very few children in that age group can operate the surrogate lighter in a fashion that would produce a flame in the equivalent lighter being sold in the United States. Since the intellectual capability of all children in the target age group is a very difficult characteristic to design against, in fact, child resistant lighters in the United States tend to be a combine trickiness of operation and difficulty of operation by someone who has limited manual dexterity, limited strength, and/or small hands and fingers.

[0008] There are places in the world that are progressing from subsistence farming economies, where simple items, such as cigarette lighters, can be assembled at extremely low cost by hand. Such low labor costs enable a manufactured cost that is about half of the cost that can be achieved by automation in industrialized countries with higher labor costs. Therefore, it has become critical to those selling lighters in the United States to design child resistant lighters, which can be manufactured very economically, by hand.

[0009] Summarizing, a particular lighter design must be economical to manufacture and child resistant. Yet, it must be manufacturable in prototype quantities and tested prior to importation as a production model into the United States. This process takes somewhere between six months and a year. Therefore, many individuals and companies have filed patent applications, some with relatively broad claims, prior to the time that they have determined that the child resistancy of the lighter being patented is sufficient to pass U.S. Government regulations. Now, if someone wishes to improve one or more aspects of a lighter, not only must the lighter be designed for extremely economical manufacture, it must avoid the claims of patents on lighters, which although not sufficiently child resistant to be allowed into the United States, cannot be improved by others to provide the required child resistancy, because of the broad claims in of one or more unexpired patents.

[0010] Examples include Zellweger, U.S. Pat. No. 5,096,414, wherein child resistancy is provided by disconnected thumbwheels on either side of the sparkwheel of a sparkwheel lighter. The patent indicates that an adult thumb has enough flesh to operate the sparkwheel directly, whereas a child's thumb does not, even though presumably a child's thumb is thinner and might fit between the two thumbwheels if stroked front to back rather than across the thumbwheels. Lighters, whose primary actuation method is a force sensitive slipable mechanism between the sparkwheel and the thumbwheels such as those shown in U.S. Pat. No. 5,547,370 which employs a polygonal thumbwheel slip mechanism have been enjoined from sales in the Unites States by the owner of the Zellweger patent because it is possible for the flesh of an adult thumb to actually contact and assist in the rotation of the sparkwheel.

[0011] Therefore, there has been a need to provide a non-infringing spark wheel lighter, which can be economically manufactured and assembled essentially by hand and at the same time provide the required child resistancy.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0012] The present ignition mechanism for a gas lighter solves the aforementioned problems and makes sparks when a sparkwheel is rotated against a flint. The present ignition mechanism includes two axle support members mounted to the body of the lighter between which an axle extends. A sparkwheel and two inwardly flanged thumbwheels are loosely mounted on the axle, the sparkwheel is loosely mounted for ease of manual assembly while the thumbwheels are loosely mounted to provide child resistancy, as will be explained. The axle support members retain stub portions of the axle in bearings so that the axle rotates about a fixed line with respect to the flint. Therefore to cause the sparkwheel to rotate with respect to the flint to produce sparks, requires that the axle be turned. The cross-sectional shape of the axle where the sparkwheel in mounted thereon, only needs to be shaped with respect to a hole through the sparkwheel so that relative rotational motion is not possible. This can also be accomplished by pinning or keying the axle and sparkwheel together or through the use of adhesive, although the former increases cost and the latter may produce a failure point that makes the lighter inoperative.

[0013] The axle shape where the thumbwheels are mounted is preferably rotationally non-round symmetrical, with a polygon shape being preferred. The thumbwheels have center holes that are complementary to the axle cross-sectional shape, but of a size large enough to turn with respect thereto, even when the thumbwheels are tilted with respect to the axis of the axle. The inward flange on each thumbwheel forms the thumb engagement outer circumferential surface therefor. For the user to engage the thumbwheels with the axle, a substantial inward radial force must be applied between the user's thumb and the flange. Since the engagement force between the thumbwheels and the axle acts a distance spaced from the sparkwheel and outside the thumb force applied to the flange, the thumbwheels tilt toward each other, over the sparkwheel, preventing the thumb from engaging the sparkwheel to allow direct rotation thereof. Children of an age where they do not appreciate the danger of fire, have difficulty producing enough radially inward force to engage the thumbwheels with the axle, and at the same time producing the circumferential force required to rotate the axle and sparkwheel to produce gas igniting sparks. This difficulty of operation is partly because the thumbwheels easily turn with respect to the axle, so the action necessary to engage the thumbwheels with the axle is not obvious to the child, and partly because children are unlikely to have enough strength to accomplish spark production.

[0014] The complementary shapes of the axle and thumbwheels can be changed both in relative size and shape and the clearance can be changed to allow more or less tilting of the thumbwheels. In addition, the strength of the flint springs can be changed to produce a balance where most adults can operate the lighter, but few, if any, children under the age of fifty one months can operate it even if parents carelessly demonstrate proper operation and leave multiple examples where a child can experiment with the lighter many times.

[0015] The gas igniting sparks are produced in the vicinity of the gas release nozzle. The gas is released when the nozzle is lifted by a rocking gas release lever. The construction of nozzles is such that it is preferable that they are lifted in a straight line, but the more normal pivoting gas release lever tries to move the nozzle along a circular path. Therefore, the present lever is formed with a pair of centrally positioned rockers which rock and slide on suitable surfaces on the top of the lighter body so the nozzle can move in a linear path with the lever moving end to end to compensate for the angular differences between the nozzle and the gas release lever as it is operated.

[0016] Therefore, an object of the present invention is to provide a child resistant ignition system which is versatile so that it can pass child resistancy testing in many countries.

[0017] Another object is to provide a child resistant ignition system that can be assembled in an automated factory, a partly automated factory or manually, so that it can be produced at competitive prices, no matter how the costs of labor vary throughout the world.

[0018] Another object is to provide a child resistant ignition system that avoids infringement of U.S. patents broadly claiming child resistant features, even if those claimed features may not pass child resistance testing in the United States.

[0019] Another object is to provide a child resistant ignition system which is easily operated by those with the intellectual capacity to appreciate the danger of an open flame.

[0020] These and other objects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art after considering the following detailed specification, together with the accompanying drawings wherein:

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0021] FIG. 1 is a partial cross-sectional side elevational view of a gas lighter having the ignition mechanism of the present invention in the non-operating state;

[0022] FIG. 2 is a detail cross-sectional side view of the sparkwheel, a flint with its spring mounted on a polygonal axle and also showing one of the thurnbwheels of the lighter of FIG. 1;

[0023] FIG. 3 is a partial cross-sectional front view of the spark ignition assembly for the lighter of FIG. 1 as it is being actuated by a thumb;

[0024] FIG. 4 is a detail cross-sectional side view of a thumbwheel mounted on the polygonal axle of the lighter of FIG. 1;

[0025] FIG. 5 is a detail cross-sectional side view of a modified thumbwheel mounted on the polygonal axle of the lighter of FIG. 1;

[0026] FIG. 6 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of the thumbwheel for loose mounting on the polygonal axle of the lighter of FIG. 1;

[0027] FIG. 7 is a side detail view of the gas release lever and gas release nozzle of the lighter of FIG. 1; and

[0028] FIG. 8 is a motion diagram of the gas release lever of FIG. 1 showing its rocking and sliding movement.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0029] The following is a description explaining in detail preferred embodiments of the ignition mechanism according to the present invention. Referring to the drawings more particularly by reference numbers, the gas lighter 10 is equipped with a body 12 in which fuel gas is stored, and a nozzle 14, through which fuel gas is released by the rocking of an operating lever 16. The operating lever 16 includes one end 18 that engages the nozzle 14, lifting it to release the gas when the opposite end 20 is depressed by the user's thumb. The gas is ignited by a shower of sparks generated by a child resistant ignition assembly 22.

[0030] As shown in FIG. 2, the assembly 22 includes a flint 24, which is pushed upward against a sparkwheel 26 by a spring 28. The sparkwheel 26 has the configuration of a cylindrical file. Preferably, the sparkwheel 26 includes a non-round opening 30 there through so that it can be manually slid onto and thereby mounted on a non-round axle portion 32 of an axle 34, shown as having a sextuple polygonal cross-sectional shape over most of its length. The axle 34 includes short round stubs 36 extending from the non-round portion 32 which are supported in bearing holes 38 formed in axle support members 40 and 41 extending upwardly from the body 12 of the lighter 10. Therefore, the sparkwheel 26 and axle 34 rotate together.

[0031] As shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, two thumbwheels 42 and 44 are also mounted on the non-round portion 32 of the axle 34 with a matching non-round hole, such as the sextuple polygon hole 46 which is congruent to the axle portion 32, but large enough to rotate there about unless enough downward force is applied to the thumbwheels 42 and 44 to cause them to engage the axle portion 32. If at the same time radial force is applied to the thumbwheels 42 and 44, the axle 34 and sparkwheel 26 rotate therewith to produce a shower of sparks.

[0032] As shown in FIG. 5, the thumbwheels 42 or 44 can include a hole 48 that is generally polygonal shaped with relieved corners 50 so the force required to engage the thumbwheels 42 or 44 with the axle 34 is relatively uniform as the assembly 22 rotates. The relieved corners 50, shown with the modified thumbwheel 52, also assist in allowing inward facing flanges 54 and 56 (FIG. 6) at the outer peripheries 58 and 60 of the thumbwheels 42 and 44 to lean inwardly in response to force (arrow 62) applied by the user's thumb 64 thereto. If the thumbwheels 42 and 44 did not tilt, the distance between the thumbwheels 42 and 44 could not be reduced below the diameter of the flint 24. The tilting or leaning causes the flanges 54 and 56 to guard the sparkwheel 26 from being directly actuated by a thumb 64. The distance 66 between the axle support members 40 and 41 between which the axle portion 32 extends, is larger than the width 67 of the sparkwheel 26 and the width 68 of disk portions 69 and 70 of the thumbwheels 42 and 44. This provides clearance for the tilt caused because the average force (arrow 72 of FIG. 6) initially applied by the thumb 64 is inside the average reactive force (arrow 76) by enough distance (arrow 78) between the thumbwheel hole 48 and the axle portion 34 to cause tilting to reliability to occur whenever an ignition is attempted.

[0033] Therefore, ignition sparks are very difficult for a child to produce because not only must the child recognize that downward force must be applied to operatively engage the thumbwheels 42 and 44 with the sparkwheel 26, the child must develop relatively large forces both inwardly and radially. Then the child must release gas by depressing the operating lever 16 before the sparks extinguish.

[0034] The nozzle 14 is designed for a linear pull to release gas. Therefore, a conventional pivoted lever whose ends follow circular paths tend to stress the nozzle 14. In the present lighter 10, instead of being restrained to pivot, the operating lever 16 includes a center section 80 as shown in FIG. 7 including a pair of rockers 82 and 83, which engage a top surface 84 of the body 12. An optional lever extension 85 can be provided which is loosely restrained in a cavity 86 in the lighter body 12 to stabilize the lever 16 from movement toward or away from the nozzle 14. With a rocker type operating lever 16, the motion of the nozzle 14 can be straight vertically 88 as shown in FIG. 8, which is a motion diagram of the lever 16. Note that the end 20 follows a curved path 90 and the center section 80 slides 92 when it rotates 94.

[0035] Thus there has been shown and described novel child resistant ignition systems for sparkwheel lighters, which fulfill all the objects and advantages sought therefor. Many changes, modifications, alterations and other uses and applications which do not depart from the spirit and scope of the invention are deemed to be covered by the invention which is limited only by the claims that follow: