Title:
Soft-sided cooler with quick access opening
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Quick access to the interior of a soft-sided cooler is provided by means of a quick access flap (26) hinged to the top panel (18) of a cooler body (10) and overlying an access opening (30). A tab (36) is made of material of significantly greater flexibility than that of which the flap (26) or the top panel (18) are formed and extends beyond the envelope of the top panel (18) so as to be readily graspable by the user of the cooler without forming a snag point on the cooler.



Inventors:
Mcdonald, Hugh J. (Toronto, CA)
Application Number:
10/271464
Publication Date:
04/22/2004
Filing Date:
10/16/2002
Assignee:
MCDONALD HUGH J.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
62/457.5, 62/464, 206/541, 220/254.3, 220/592.17, 224/148.7, 62/457.4
International Classes:
A45C11/20; B65D81/38; (IPC1-7): F25D3/08
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NEWHOUSE, NATHAN JEFFREY
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WOOD, PHILLIPS, KATZ, CLARK & MORTIMER (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
1. In a soft-sided, portable cooler having a cooler body including an insulated pliable bottom wall, an insulated pliable side wall joined to and extending in upstanding-fashion about the periphery of the bottom wall, the side wall including an upper loading/unloading access opening to the interior of the cooler body, an insulated pliable top panel sized to close the loading/unloading access opening and hinged to said side wall at or near said upper loading/unloading access opening, a zipper-like closing device extending about the upper loading/unloading access opening and the periphery of the top panel for selectively securing the top panel in a position closing said loading/unloading access opening, and a quick access structure including a quick access opening in the top panel, a flap on the top panel and within the envelope thereof and hinged to the top panel within the envelope to be movable between positions opening and closing the quick access opening, a body of insulating material carried by the flap in alignment with the quick access opening, and a quick release fastener at a first location at the interface of the flap and the top panel generally opposite a second location whereat the flap is hinged to the top panel, the improvement including an opening tab secured to said flap at or adjacent said first location and directed away from said second location, said tab being formed of a material of greater flexibility than said flap or said top panel to be easily gripped by a user of the cooler without forming a snag point on the cooler.

2. In a soft-sided, portable cooler having a cooler body including an insulated pliable bottom wall, an insulated pliable side wall joined to and extending in upstanding-fashion about the periphery of the bottom wall, the side wall including an upper loading/unloading access opening to the interior of the cooler body, an insulated pliable top panel sized to close the loading/unloading access opening and hinged to said side wall at or near said upper loading/unloading access opening, a zipper-like closing device extending about the upper loading/unloading access opening and the periphery of the top panel for selectively securing the top panel in a position closing said loading/unloading access opening, and a quick access structure including a quick access opening in the top panel, a flap on the top panel and within the envelope thereof and hinged to the top panel within the envelope to be movable between positions opening and closing the quick access opening, a body of insulating material carried by the flap in alignment with the quick access opening, and a quick release fastener at a first location at the interface of the flap and the top panel generally opposite a second location whereat the flap is hinged to the top panel, the improvement including an opening tab secured to said flap at or adjacent said first location and directed away from said second location, said tab extending outside the envelope of the top panel to be readily grippable by a user of the cooler.

3. In a soft-sided, portable cooler having a cooler body including an insulated pliable bottom wall, an insulated pliable side wall joined to and extending in upstanding-fashion about the periphery of the bottom wall, the side wall including an upper loading/unloading access opening to the interior of the cooler body, an insulated pliable top panel sized to close the loading/unloading access opening and hinged to said side wall at or near said upper loading/unloading access opening, a zipper-like closing device extending about the upper loading/unloading access opening and the periphery of the top panel for selectively securing the top panel in a position closing said loading/unloading access opening, and a quick access structure including a quick access opening in the top panel, a flap on the top panel and within the envelope thereof and hinged to the top panel within the envelope to be movable between positions opening and closing the quick access opening, a body of insulating material carried by the flap in alignment with the quick access opening, and a quick release fastener at a first location at the interface of the flap and the top panel generally opposite a second location whereat the flap is hinged to the top panel, the improvement including an opening tab secured to said flap at or adjacent said first location and directed away from said second location, said tab being formed of a material of greater flexibility than said top panel and extending outside the envelope of the top panel.

4. The soft-sided, portable cooler of claim 3 wherein said side wall includes a relatively short skirt secured to and depending from said top panel and aligned with said upper loading/unloading access opening and said zipper-like closing device is operable to secure said side wall skirt to said side wall at said upper loading/unloading access opening.

5. The soft-sided, portable cooler of claim 4 wherein said tab further extends somewhat past the side wall of upper section of the cooler body.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] This invention relates to insulated containers typically employed for the transport of food or beverages in either a heated or a cooled state and generally referred to as coolers.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Insulated containers for transporting food and/or beverages in a heated or cooled state have long been known. Originally, rigid containers with insulated walls and pivoted lids were employed for the purpose. Indeed, such rigid coolers are still employed today for many purposes.

[0003] More recent years have seen the development of so-called “soft-sided coolers” which typically are not as bulky as rigid-sided coolers but in some instances may approach the size thereof. Soft-sided coolers are frequently provided with carrying straps and offer the advantage that when carried by the carrying strap, the user of the cooler is in contact with a relatively soft-sided cooler to make carrying more comfortable. Moreover, in soft-sided coolers by their very nature are partially collapsible and therefore are more readily stored by the user when not in use and are more easily transported by the manufacturer to a point of sale and/or maintained in inventory by a merchandiser of the cooler.

[0004] As a consequence of these attributes, soft-sided coolers have become quite popular and their use has proliferated accordingly.

[0005] A typical soft-sided cooler is usually, but not always, in the form of a rectangular solid having an insulated, pliable bottom wall, an upstanding, insulated pliable side wall and a pliable top panel which also is insulated. In the usual case, the vast majority of the side wall is attached to the bottom wall while a short, upper section of the side wall is attached to and depends from the periphery of the top panel. On one side, the side wall parts are joined so as to define a hinged section. Around the remaining three sides, a zipper or other securing device extends which may be closed to secure the top panel in a closed state to the side wall. When the zipper is opened about three sides, the top panel (and that small portion of the side wall secured to the top panel) may be pivoted away from a loading/unloading opening near the upper part of the side wall through which items to be transported may be introduced into or taken from the interior of the cooler.

[0006] This sort of structure is highly desirable in that it allows the top panel to be pivoted away from the remainder to the cooler to expose an access opening that is essentially the same size as the bottom panel, thereby allowing easy introduction or removal of the materials to be transported in the cooler. However, it is not without a drawback. In particular, when only one or two items of many contained within the cooler are to be removed therefrom, the zipper must be moved about three sides of the cooler to achieve access to the interior. After removal, the zipper must be re-zipped. This requires more effort than is desired when only a single or a few of the items contained in the cooler are to be accessed.

[0007] To solve this problem, the assignee of the instant application introduced an improvement wherein the top panel itself was provided with a much smaller quick access opening that is closed by a flap forming part of the top panel and which carries a body of insulation sufficiently large so as to close the quick access opening. A quick release securing device as, for example, Velcro® fasteners are employed to secure the flap to the remainder of the top panel at a point opposite that whereat the flap is hinged to the remainder of the top panel.

[0008] This solution to the quick access problem has worked well for its intended purpose but in practice, some difficulty in grasping the flap for the purpose of breaking the securement provided by the engaged Velcro® fasteners and opening the flap to expose the quick access opening is not as convenient as may be desired.

[0009] The present invention is directed to overcoming this problem.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0010] It is a principal object of the invention to provide a new and improved portable cooler as, for example, a soft-sided cooler. More particularly, it is an object of the invention to provide an improved quick access structure for use in a cooler such as a soft-sided cooler.

[0011] The foregoing objects are realized by the invention in a structure including a bottom wall, a side wall affixed to the bottom wall, and extending upwardly therefrom and at or near its upper extremity defining an access opening whereby the cooler may be loaded or unloaded. A top panel may or may not include a relatively short, depending skirt forming part of the side wall and aligned with the access opening. The top panel is hinged to the side wall at or near the access opening and a zipper-like securing structure extends about the loading/unloading access opening for the purpose of securing the top panel in a closed position or allowing release of the top panel to be pivoted to expose the access opening for loading and unloading of the cooler.

[0012] The top panel, in turn, includes a quick access opening and a flap which is hinged for movement between positions closing or opening the quick access opening. The bottom and side walls and the top panel are formed of insulating material and the flap carries a body of insulating material aligned with the quick access opening to provide insulation in that area as well. A quick release securing device is located at the interface between the flap and the remainder of the top panel and oppositely of the point where the two are hinged together to hold the flap in a closed position while allowing its release for movement to an open position whereby access to the interior of the cooler may be achieved through the quick access opening.

[0013] According to the invention, a tab is secured to the flap, generally oppositely of the point at which the flap is hinged to the remainder of the top panel to provide a means that may readily gripped by the user of the cooler to achieve access to its contents through the quick access opening.

[0014] In one embodiment, the tab is formed of a material of greater flexibility than the top panel or the flap.

[0015] In one embodiment, the tab extends beyond the envelope of the top panel.

[0016] Even more preferably, the flap extends somewhat beyond the side wall of the cooler.

[0017] In a highly preferred embodiment, the tab is both formed of flexible material and extends outside the envelope of the top panel, and even more preferably, extends beyond the side wall.

[0018] As a consequence, the tab is easily grasped for the purpose of pivoting the flap to a position exposing the quick access opening and without creating a snag point on the cooler.

[0019] Other objects and advantages will become apparent from the following specification taken in connection with the accompanying drawings.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0020] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a soft-sided cooler embodying the invention showing a top panel moved partially toward an open position;

[0021] FIG. 2 is a perspective view illustrating the top panel in a closed position but with a quick access flap moved partially toward an open position;

[0022] FIG. 3 is a plan view showing the quick access flap in a closed position;

[0023] FIG. 4 is a view similar to FIG. 3 but showing the quick access flap moved to an open position;

[0024] FIG. 5 is a fragmentary, side elevation showing the quick access flap in a partially opened condition; and

[0025] FIG. 6 is a fragmentary, side elevation showing the quick access flap in a closed position.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0026] With reference to FIG. 1, a preferred embodiment of a soft-sided cooler made according to the invention is illustrated. The soft-sided cooler includes a body, generally designated 10. As is apparent from FIGS. 1 and 2, the body 10 is in the form of a rectangular solid. However, other shapes may be employed as well. For example, a cylindrical shape could be employed if desired as could a number of other geometric configurations.

[0027] In any event, the body 10 includes a pliable, insulated bottom wall 12. A rectangular side wall 14 of insulated pliable material extends upwardly from the bottom wall 12 and, near its upper end, includes an access opening, generally designated 16. The access opening 16 is for unloading or loading the cooler and can be closed by a top panel 18 which is secured to a rear section 20 of the side wall 14 for pivoting between positions opening and closing the access opening 16 by a hinge, typically fabric (not shown). The periphery of the top panel 18 defines its envelope and in many instances, a short skirt 22 depends from the top panel 18 in alignment with the side wall 14 to form a continuation thereof. A conventional zipper 24 may be utilized to secure the skirt 22 to the side wall 14 so that the top panel 18 closes the interior of the cooler body 10. The zipper 24 may be opened to allow the top panel 18 to be pivoted from a closed position to an open position exposing the loading/unloading access opening 16.

[0028] The top panel 18 is also insulated and made of a pliable material. In the usual case, a sandwiched construction will be utilized for the walls 12 and 14 as well as the top panel 18 wherein the exterior part of each wall is formed of a fabric and the interior part formed of a liquid impervious plastic or the like. Suitable insulating fiber of a flexible nature is located between the two panels in a manner known in the art.

[0029] The top panel 18 also includes a quick access flap 26 which is shown in a closed position in FIG. 1 and in a partially open position in FIG. 2. The periphery of the flap 26, when closed as will be seen, is within the envelope of the top panel 18 as is apparent from FIG. 3. The flap 26 is hinged to the remainder of the top panel as by stitching the fabric of which the flap 26 may be formed to the fabric on the exterior of the top panel at a location defined by a line 28 (FIG. 2). To one side of the line 28 is a rectangular quick access opening 30 which will be typically sized so that one may insert one's hand into the interior of the body 10 through the quick access opening to retrieve a beverage or a sandwich or the like. Shapes other than rectangular ones could also be employed in forming the opening 30.

[0030] The flap 26 carries a small, rectangular body 32 of insulating material which is sized to approximately the same size and shape as the quick access opening 30. The block 32 may extend into the quick access opening 30 if desired or, in the alternative, may be sized so as to abut the edges of the access opening 30 to form a gross seal thereat.

[0031] A quick release fastener 34, such as a Velcro® patch, may be located adjacent the access opening 30 at a location remote from the hinge line 28. A mating patch (not shown in FIG. 2) is located on the flap 26 so as to engage with the patch 34 to hold the flap 26 in a closed position when desired.

[0032] In the illustrated embodiment, the flap 26 is generally rectangular in form and at its side opposite the hinge line 28, mounts a bell-shaped tab 36 which is intended to be gripped by a user of cooler when the user desires to achieve access to the interior of the cooler body 10 through the quick access opening 30. The tab 36 extends away from the hinge line 28.

[0033] The body 10 can be provided with a flexible carrying strap 37 secured to the side wall 14 at spaced locations thereon near the upper end thereof.

[0034] Turning now to FIGS. 3 and 4, the flap 26 is shown in a closed position in FIG. 3 and in an open position in FIG. 4. In FIG. 4, a further part of a quick release securing means such as a Velcro® patch 38 is seen to be disposed between the tab 36 and the body 32 of insulating material and located so as to align with and engage the pad 34 to hold the flap 26 in a closed position with the body 32 occupying the access opening 30 as viewed in dotted lines in FIG. 3.

[0035] The top panel will be made of a sandwich construction as mentioned earlier as will be the body 32 to provide a liquid tight construction.

[0036] Turning now to FIGS. 5 and 6, the flap 26 is seen in a partially open position in FIG. 5 and can be moved either to a fully open position such as illustrated in FIG. 4 by grasping the tab 36 or to a fully closed position as illustrated in FIGS. 3 and 6 by pivoting the flap 26 in the opposite direction. A liquid impervious wall 40 forming part of the top panel 26 and/or the side wall skirt 22 is illustrated in dotted lines in the vicinity of the access opening 30 so as to indicate the relationship of the insulating body 32 thereto.

[0037] According to the invention, an important feature of the invention is that the tab 36, which can be sewed to the flap 26 of the top panel 18, is of a material of significantly greater flexibility than the top panel 18 or the flap 26 when formed as previously described. It will also be appreciated from FIGS. 3, 4 and 6 that the tab 36 extends beyond the envelope of the top panel 18 which usually, but not always, will be basically congruent with the side wall 14.

[0038] Even more preferably, the tab 36 will extend outwardly from the side wall 14 when the flap 26 is in the closed position as is evident from FIGS. 3 and 6.

[0039] This feature of the invention is important in several ways. For one, because of the fact that the tab 36 is quite flexible, it may be easily twisted or turned to be gripped between the thumb and forefinger of the user and then pulled to cause the Velcro® pads 34,38 to release from one another. To achieve the desired flexibility, a plastic soft rubber-like material may be utilized. For that matter, even leather could be used but a plastic material is preferred for durability.

[0040] In addition, when the tab 36 is cause to project beyond the envelope of the top panel 18 and/or the side wall 14, the fact of the projection makes it even easier to grasp the tab 36 for the purpose of operating the flap 28 because access to the tab is not obstructed by any of the flap, the top panel or the side wall. Moreover, because of the relative flexibility or softness of the material which the tab 36 is formed, it will not form a snag point on the cooler that could snag on the apparel of the user when being carried where on any other objects which might be in proximity to it. Rather, it will simply bend and deflect.

[0041] The construction allows opening of the flap 26 without the need of inserting one's fingers under the flap 26 itself when in the closed position, thereby significantly simplifying the attainment of quick access to the interior of the cooler.