Title:
Semi-collapsible container
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A semi-collapsible container has a hollow body with support and collapsible portions, and can be maintained in a collapsed or an expanded condition. The container is useful for storing liquid, and is especially adapted in its collapsed condition for storing relatively small volumes of concentrated liquid, powders or the like, and in its expanded condition for containing larger volumes of liquid. Via a dispenser in the container, a closure assembly is coupled to the container for securing the contents thereof from leakage.



Inventors:
Nottingham, John (Bratenahl, OH, US)
Spirk, John (Gates Mills, OH, US)
Stanca, Nick E. (Westlake, OH, US)
Kalman, Jeff (Cleveland Heights, OH, US)
Application Number:
11/217088
Publication Date:
06/08/2006
Filing Date:
08/31/2005
Assignee:
Consumer Innovation Partners, LP (Cleveland, OH, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D90/02
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
WEAVER, SUE A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP (Cleveland, OH, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A semi-collapsible container capable of moving between a collapsed condition and an expanded condition, the container defining a hollow interior that is defined at least in part by a side wall, the hollow interior capable of storing liquid when the container is in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, a dispenser communicating with the hollow interior, a base forming a portion of the hollow interior of the container, the base being capable of non-movably supporting the container when the container is filled with liquid in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, a frame forming a portion of the side wall of the container, the frame maintaining the dispenser in a fixed position with respect to the base regardless if the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition, and at least one collapsible portion cooperating with the base and frame to define the hollow interior of the container.

2. The container of claim 1, wherein the container defines a height, width, depth and a front profile, the container being collapsible so that the front profile of the container is essentially the same regardless of whether the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition.

3. The container of claim 2, wherein the frame and the base are essentially rigid.

4. The container of claim 3, wherein the collapsible portion is defined by a flexible side wall of the container.

5. The container of claim 4, wherein the collapsible portion includes a flexible rear wall of the container.

6. The container of claim 1, wherein the collapsible portion is received inside the frame when the container is in its collapsed condition.

7. The container of claim 6, wherein the collapsible portion and the frame together define an outwardly facing concavity when the container is in its collapsed condition.

8. A product comprising the container of claim 1 and a powder, liquid concentrate or both in the hollow interior of the container, the container being in its collapsed condition.

9. A process for forming a mixture comprising a liquid diluent and a powder, liquid concentrate or both, the process comprising charging a liquid diluent into the container of the product of claim 8.

10. A product comprising the container of claim 1 and a mixture in the hollow interior of the container, the mixture comprising a liquid diluent and a powder, liquid concentrate or both, the container being in its expanded condition.

11. A product comprising the container of claim 7 and a component in the outwardly facing concavity, the component selected from the group consisting of tools for use with the container, such as pumps, measuring cups or spoons, dispensing containers, additional caps and the like, product instructions, promotional items, such as coupons, juice glasses, children's toys, and other items that appeal to consumers, and combinations of these.

12. A semi-collapsible container comprising: a hollow body of thermoplastic material having an upper end with a dispenser therein, a support portion having an interior cavity, and a collapsible portion adapted to move between a substantially expanded condition and a substantially collapsed condition in which the collapsible portion is inverted into the interior cavity of the support portion.

13. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, comprising a hinge between the support portion and the collapsible portion.

14. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 13, wherein the hinge is a living hinge.

15. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 14, wherein the hinge is substantially V shaped or substantially Z shaped.

16. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, comprising a lower support base in communication with the support portion.

17. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, the container having an overall substantially cylindrical shape.

18. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, wherein the support portion forms at least one half of the container and wherein the collapsible portion forms not more than one half of the container.

19. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 16, wherein the upper end and the lower support base are on the support portion.

20. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 16, wherein the lower support base is substantially rectangular in shape.

21. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 20, wherein the support portion has a substantially flat surface connected to rounded sides.

22. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 21, wherein the lower support base is connected to the substantially flat surface and rounded sides of the support portion via a beveled edge.

23. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 21, wherein the lower support base is connected to the substantially flat surface and rounded sides of the support portion at substantially a 90 degree angle.

24. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, wherein the collapsible portion has a substantially cylindrical face, a domed top, and a flattened bottom.

25. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, the container having at least one handle.

26. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 25, wherein the handle is offset from a central axis of the container.

27. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 26, wherein the handle is positioned on the upper end and is adjacent to the dispenser.

28. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, the upper end having the approximate shape of a dome, with the dispenser positioned at the top of the dome.

29. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, the dispenser comprising a closure means for receiving a closure assembly, the closure means comprising threads.

31. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, wherein the support portion is made from a material that is different from that of the collapsible portion.

32. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 31, wherein the materials of the support and collapsible portions differ in at least one of the properties of rigidity, flexibility, elasticity, thermal and chemical resistance, electrical resistance/conductance, mechanical abrasion resistance, catalytic surface activity, color, transparency/opacity, reflectivity, and texture.

33. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 32, wherein the material of the support portion is more rigid than that of the collapsible portion.

34. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, wherein the container is made from a thermoplastic material selected from the group of PET, PP, PE, HDPE, LDPE, PVC, PC, PETG, and combinations of two or more thereof.

35. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 34, wherein the material of the support portion comprises a blend of LDPE and HDPE, and wherein the material of the collapsible portion comprises one of LDPE and a blend of LDPE and HDPE.

36. A semi-collapsible container in accordance with claim 12, wherein the container is formed by an extrusion blow molding process.

37. A process for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article, the process comprising: forming a parison from at least one polymeric resinous material; positioning the parison in a blow mold having an inner shape that defines the shape of the article to include at least one support portion and at least one collapsible portion, and introducing air into the parison to force the parison to conform to the inner shape of the mold; processing the blown article, including the steps, in any order, of removing the article from the mold and inverting a collapsible portion of the article into an interior space within a support portion of the article.

38. A process for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article according to claim 37, wherein the parison is formed from at least two different polymeric resinous materials, at least one of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one support portion, and another of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one collapsible portion.

39. A process for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article according to claim 38, wherein each of the polymeric resinous materials differs from the other(s) in at least one of the properties of rigidity, flexibility, elasticity, thermal and chemical resistance, electrical resistance/conductance, mechanical abrasion resistance, catalytic surface activity, color, transparency/opacity, reflectivity, and texture.

40. A process for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article according to claim 33, wherein the material(s) positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one non-collapsible portion comprises a blend of LDPE and HDPE, and wherein the material(s) positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one collapsible portion comprises one of LDPE and a blend of LDPE and HDPE.

Description:

PRIORITY CLAIM

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application 60/606,085, filed Aug. 31, 2004, which is incorporated herein by reference, in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The invention is generally applicable to semi-collapsible containers. More specifically, the invention is applicable to semi-collapsible containers that expand from a relatively minimum internal volume to a larger internal volume to accommodate the addition of liquid or liquid-based solutions. The containers are particularly useful for storage of liquid concentrates, powders and the like in the collapsed condition, and upon addition of a diluting liquid, for the containment of the diluted contents in the expanded condition.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Many consumer and industrial products are composed of active ingredients dissolved in solvents, such as water. These type of products have traditionally been sold preformulated and packaged by the manufacturer. This is to say that the manufacturer dissolves the active ingredients in a solvent, packages the resulting solution in a container, and markets the product to its consumer or industrial clients. This method provides for a fully constituted end product; however, the method also maximizes the volume and weight of the product, which is often undesirable. There is a general need to provide apparatus and methods of providing liquid-based solutions to the market while decreasing the weight of the product and space needed to store the product.

The minimization of weight and volume of products is advantageous to manufactures, retailers and consumers. The manufacturer can reduce the costs of shipping products by reducing the overall weight and cargo volume of shipments. The manufacturer can also improve the shelf life of certain products by eliminating diluting liquids such as water. Retailers can display goods using less shelf space and reduce the physical workload on employers who stock the shelves. Consumers can more easily handle the lighter products and store them more conveniently in their homes or businesses prior to using the product.

One method of achieving these goals is to sell only the active ingredients. A consumer can purchase the active ingredients and wait until the product is needed to add the solvent and constitute the final product. This method achieves the goal of reducing weight of the product and storage space of the product. However, this method inconveniences the consumer if an adequate package for accommodating the additional liquid is not provided with the concentrated ingredient. Not only does an adequate container need to accommodate the proper volume, it must also be made of material that is safe when brought into contact with the active ingredients, and it must be designed for appropriate and safe dispensing of the diluted contents. The design of a container can minimize splashing during pouring or make dispensing small amounts easier. In the absence of an appropriate container, the consumer may have difficulty in utilizing the concentrated product correctly, efficiently, and in some instances, safely. Accordingly, a need exists for consumer product packaging that allows manufactures to provide products in a concentrated form that minimizes weight and volume, potentially improves product shelf life, and insures the contained product is used conveniently, safely and efficiently by the consumer.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention provides in various embodiments a container for storing and dispensing products in their concentrated and diluted forms. The invention also provides methods for manufacture of the container. The container is semi-collapsible, has a hollow body with support and collapsible portions, and can be maintained in a substantially collapsed or a substantially expanded condition. The container is particularly useful for storing liquid. In its collapsed condition, the container is especially adapted for storing relatively small volumes of concentrated liquid, powders or the like, occupying minimal space and having a minimal weight. In its expanded condition, the container is especially adapted for receiving and containing larger volumes of liquid which may be added by the consumer of the contained product to dilute the concentrated contents. Addition of diluting liquids and dispensing of the contained product from the container is achieved via a dispenser in the container, and the container is secured from leakage via a closure assembly that is coupled to the dispenser.

In various embodiments, the invention provides a semi-collapsible container capable of moving between a collapsed condition and an expanded condition. The container includes hollow interior that is defined at least in part by a side wall and is capable of storing liquid when the container is in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, and a dispenser communicating with the hollow interior. The container also includes a base forming a portion of the hollow interior of the container, the base being capable of non-movably supporting the container when the container is filled with liquid in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, a frame forming a portion of the side wall of the container, the frame maintaining the dispenser in a fixed position with respect to the base regardless if the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition, and at leas one collapsible portion cooperating with the base and frame to define the hollow interior of the container. In some embodiments, the container is collapsible in a fashion such that its front profile is essentially the same regardless of whether the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition.

In accordance with some embodiments, the frame of the container is provided in the form of an upper end with a dispenser therein, and a lower support base. The support portion of the container has an interior cavity that defines a portion of the volume of the container, and a collapsible portion with a shape that defines a volume that influences the total internal volume of the container. The collapsible portion is adapted to be physically movable relative to the support portion between an expanded position and a collapsed position. When the collapsible portion is in the expanded position, the internal volume defined by the cavity of the collapsible portion is available to accommodate liquid or other contents within the interior of the container. According to some embodiments, when the collapsible portion is in the collapsed position, the collapsible portion is inverted into the interior cavity of the support portion, and the cavities of the collapsible and support portions are at least partially nested, thereby reducing the internal volume of the container available to accommodate liquid or other contents. In other embodiments, the support portion is not nested with the collapsible portion when in the collapsed condition. According to such embodiments, the collapsible portion is in a non expanded condition.

In various embodiments, the invention also provides a process for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article. The process includes the steps of forming a parison from at least one polymeric resinous material; positioning the parison in a blow mold having an inner shape that defines the shape of the article to include at least one support portion and at least one collapsible portion, and introducing air into the parison to force the parison to conform to the inner shape of the mold; and processing the blown article, including the steps, in any order, of removing the article from the mold and inverting a collapsible portion of the article into an interior space within a support portion of the article. In some embodiments, the process provides a semi-collapsible blow molded article that is made of at least two different materials, wherein a parison is formed from at least two different polymeric resinous materials, at least one of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one support portion, and another of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one collapsible portion.

Additional features and advantages of the invention will be set forth in part in the description which follows, and in part will be obvious from the description, or may be learned by practice of the invention. The features and advantages of the invention will be realized and attained by means of the elements and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims. It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory only and are not restrictive of the invention, as claimed.

The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate several embodiments of the invention, and together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of one embodiment of a semi-collapsible container;

FIG. 2 shows another perspective view of the embodiment of the semi-collapsible container in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 panel A shows a top view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a expanded condition; panel B shows the corresponding bottom view; panel C show the corresponding side view;

FIG. 4 panel A shows a perspective view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition; panel B shows an alternate perspective view; panel C show the corresponding side view; and

FIG. 5 panel A shows a cut away side view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an expanded condition; panel B shows an exploded cutaway side view of the detail of an actuation means; panel C shows a cut away side view of the semi-collapsible container in a collapsed condition alternate ; panel D shows a cut away top view of the semi-collapsible container in an expanded condition; panel E shows a cut away top view of the semi-collapsible container in a collapsed condition.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention will now be described with occasional reference to specific embodiments of the invention. This invention may, however, be embodied in different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art.

Except as otherwise specifically defined herein, all terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. The terminology used in the description of the invention herein is for describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to be limiting of the invention. As used in the description of the invention and the appended claims, the singular forms “a,” “an,” and “the” are intended to include the plural forms as well, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.

Unless otherwise indicated, all numbers expressing quantities, properties, and so forth as used in the specification and claims are to be understood as being modified in all instances by the term “about.” Accordingly, unless otherwise indicated, the numerical properties set forth in the following specification and claims are approximations that may vary depending on the desired properties sought to be obtained in embodiments of the present invention. Notwithstanding that the numerical ranges and parameters setting forth the broad scope of the invention are approximations, the numerical values to the extent that such are set forth in the specific examples are reported as precisely as possible. Any numerical values, however, inherently contain certain errors necessarily resulting from error found in their respective measurements.

Except as otherwise indicated, the disclosure of all patents, patent applications (and any patents which issue thereon, as well as any corresponding published foreign patent applications), and publications mentioned throughout this description are hereby incorporated by reference herein. It is expressly not admitted, however, that any of the documents incorporated by reference herein teach or disclose the present invention.

The invention is directed, in various embodiments, to a semi-collapsible container for storing and dispensing products in their concentrated and diluted forms. The terms “collapsible” and “semi-collapsible” are used to refer to any space within a container that is effectively reducible in its size or internal volume by the application of mechanical force to distort its shape, such as by inverting a portion of the container to fold over another portion. The container is capable of expanding from a substantially collapsed condition to a substantially expanded condition to accommodate the addition of liquid or other material, and has a hollow body made substantially of an appropriate material, such as a thermoplastic material.

According to various embodiments, the semi-collapsible container of the instant invention includes a hollow interior that is defined at least in part by a side wall and is capable of storing liquid when the container is in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, a dispenser communicating with the hollow interior, a base forming a portion of the hollow interior of the container, the base being capable of non-movably supporting the container when the container is filled with liquid in both its collapsed and expanded conditions, a frame forming a portion of the side wall of the container, the frame maintaining the dispenser in a fixed position with respect to the base regardless if the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition, and a collapsible portion cooperating with the base and frame to define the hollow interior of the container. In some embodiments, the container is collapsible so that its front profile is essentially the same regardless of whether the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition. In some particular embodiments, the frame and the base are essentially rigid as compared to the collapsible portion. As used herein, the terms rigid and essentially rigid refer to material properties that influence the stiffness of portions of the container. For certain embodiments in which the size and volumes of containers are large, rigidity of portions of the container will influence the ability of the container when filled with to resist deformation caused by the weight of the fluid.

The collapsible portion is adapted to be physically movable relative to the support portion between an expanded position and a collapsed position. When the collapsible portion is in the expanded position, the internal volume defined by the cavity of the collapsible portion is available to accommodate liquid or other contents within the interior of the container. When the collapsible portion is in the collapsed position, the collapsible portion is not expanded, and is in some embodiments inverted into the interior cavity of the support portion such that the cavities of the collapsible and support portions are at least partially nested. In other embodiments, the collapsible portion is in a relaxed, flattened, folded or partially inverted state. In the various embodiments, the collapsible portion in its collapsed state effectively reduces the internal volume of the container available to accommodate liquid or other contents.

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of one embodiment of a semi-collapsible container. Referring to FIG. 1, the container 100 has an upper end 105 with a dispenser 110 therein, and a lower support base 115 for supporting the container in both its collapsed and expanded conditions when resting in a generally upright position on a surface. The container has a support portion 120 having an interior cavity (125, see FIG. 2) that defines a portion of the total volume of the container. The container 100 also has at least one collapsible portion 130 with a shape that defines a cavity (135, see FIG. 2) that influences the total internal volume of the container. The collapsible portion 130 is adapted to move between a substantially expanded position and a substantially collapsed position. In the expanded condition, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes positively to the total volume of the container 100. In the collapsed condition, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes negatively to the total volume of the container 100. As can be seen in FIG. 3, the collapsible portion 130 in this embodiment appears to protrude form the side of the support portion 120 when in an expanded position.

A container 100 according to the instant invention is formed of one or more materials that are suited to use in the expanded and collapsed conditions. The particular material is generally selected to be compatible with the intended contents of a container 100. As discussed more fully below, a container 100 may be manufactured by one of a variety of methods of making containers that are well known in the art. Good results are obtained producing hollow containers using extrusion blow molding techniques with a variety of thermoplastic and elastomeric materials. Accordingly, in various embodiments according to the instant invention, a container 100 may be made from one or a combination of thermoplastic or elastomeric materials, such as: polyesters, Polycarbonate (PC), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), polyester terphthalate, butadiene-styrene co-polymers, polyamides, ethylene-vinyl-alcohol copolymer, polyethylene napthaphthalate, thermoplastic and thermosetting resins, polybutylene terephthalate, polyoxymethylenes, polyphenylene, polyphenylene sulfides, polyphenylene oxides, polymethylmethacrylate, polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), polyvinylidenechloride, polymethylpentene-1, nylon 6, nylon 66, Polyethylene Terephthalate Modified with CHDM (PETG), and mixtures thereof.

Use of thermoplastic or elastomeric materials in making the container 100 permits the selection of a broad range of possible material properties, including the properties of rigidity, flexibility, elasticity, thermal and chemical resistance, electrical resistance/conductance, mechanical abrasion resistance, catalytic surface activity, color, transparency/opacity, reflectivity, and texture. According to some embodiments of the invention, the container 100 is made entirely from one material that has uniform properties. According to other embodiments of the invention, the container 100 is made entirely from one material that has varying properties in various parts of the container 100. For example, the same thermoplastic or elastomeric material may be selected for the entire container 100 but the percentages of functional components in each may be varied to provide varied properties at discrete portions of the container 100. Similarly, in yet other embodiments, two or more different thermoplastic or elastomeric materials may be selected for the container 100, each forming a discrete portions of the container 100. According to such embodiments, portions such as the collapsible portion 130 and the support portion 120 of the container 100 may vary in properties.

In a particular embodiment, 24 the material of the support portion 120 has the property of being more rigid than the material of the collapsible portion 130, either by varying the functional components of the same material or by varying the materials. One such embodiment of the invention is a container made up of two portions with each portion manufactured from a different material. The support portion 120 is made of a semi-rigid material, of the type that is commonly used for containers that are known in the art for containing products such as juices, or automotive fluids. Typically, such material is a clear or opaque thermoplastic. The semi-rigid material is rigid enough to maintain a given shape whether there is contents in the container or the container is empty. However, the material is not so rigid that a force applied to the material would not cause some deformation. The collapsible portion 130 of the container 100 is made of a pliant material. The pliant material generally, adjusts to take the shape of the substance inside the container 100. An example of such an embodiment is a container 100 in which the material of the support portion comprises a blend of LDPE and HDPE, and wherein the material of the collapsible portion comprises one of LDPE and a blend of LDPE and HDPE. Of course a very large number of combinations of materials can be combined in making a container according to the instant invention, and methods for making them are well know in the art. In additional embodiments of the invention, the collapsible portion 130 can be made of an elastic material that stretches as liquid is added to the container 100. The elastic nature of the material could more accurately adjust to the shape of the contents of the container and potentially further minimize the exterior dimensions of the container. In addition, these embodiments could make it easier for an end user to dispense the product from the container 100.

Referring now to FIG. 2, the container 100 is shown in cutaway perspective view in an expanded condition. In the expanded condition, the container 100 has an internal volume that includes the volumes provided by the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120 and the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130. The container 100 is particularly useful for storing liquid, and other flowable materials, and in its collapsed condition, the container 100 is especially adapted for storing relatively small volumes of products such as concentrated liquids, powders or the like, the products occupying minimal space and having a minimal weight relative to their diluted forms. In its expanded condition, the container 100 is especially adapted for receiving and containing larger volumes of liquid or other flowable materials which may be added by the consumer of the contained product to dilute the concentrated product contents. Addition of diluting liquids and dispensing of the contained product from the container is achieved via the dispenser 110 in the container 100, and the container 100 is secured from leakage via a closure assembly (not shown) that is coupled to the dispenser 110.

Referring now to FIG. 3, various perspectives of the container 100 in an expanded condition are shown. Panel A provides a top view of the container 100 as illustrated in FIG. 1, in an expanded condition, and shows the top segment 131 of the collapsible portion 130 and the upper end 105 of the container 100. Panel B provides a corresponding bottom view of the container 100, and shows the bottom segment 132 of the collapsible portion 130 and the lower support base 115. And panel C provides a side view of the container 100 in an expanded condition, and shows the relative shapes, sizes and configurations of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 according to one possible embodiment of the container 100. Referring to FIG. 3C, the support portion 120 is formed of a substantially vertical wall, which in some embodiments includes a vertical front wall 121, and in some embodiments, as depicted in FIG. 3, the support portion 120 also includes two substantially vertical sidewalls 122 and 122′ (122′ not shown), and a back wall 123. In alternate embodiments of the container 100, the support portion 120 may comprise a different configuration of substantially vertical wall or walls around its periphery, as dictated by the overall shape of the container, as discussed more fully below.

Still referring to FIG. 3C, the collapsible portion 130 also includes a substantially vertical sidewall 133 which is bounded on the top by the top segment 131 and on the bottom by the bottom segment 132. In alternate embodiments of the container 100, the collapsible portion 130 may comprise a different configuration of substantially vertical wall or walls, as dictated by the overall shape of the container, as discussed more fully below. As can be seen in the various views of FIG. 3, the total volume of the container 100 includes the volumes contributed by the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120 and the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130; thus, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 makes a positive contribution to the volume of the container 100 in the expanded condition.

According to some embodiments, when in the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 130 is inverted into the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120, as depicted in the various views provided in FIG. 4. Referring now to FIG. 4, panel A provides a front perspective view of the container 100, panel B provides a corresponding rear perspective view, and panel C provides a side view. As can be seen, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 is nested within the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120. According to the depicted embodiment of the container 100, when the cavities of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions are nested, the substantially vertical walls 121, 122, and 122′ of the support portion 120 and the substantially vertical wall 133 of the collapsible portion 130 are moved adjacent to one another, and are in some embodiments at least partially in contact. Likewise, in the collapsed condition, the bottom segment 132 of the collapsible portion 130 and the lower support base 115 are moved adjacent to one another, and are in some embodiments at least partially in contact. Of course it will be appreciated that in other embodiments, the position of the collapsible portion 130 relative to that of the support portion 120 may vary; for instance, the collapsible portion 130 may be in a flattened or relaxed state, it may be folded, creased or otherwise positioned without being inverted or nested with the support portion 120.

Of course it will be understood, as more fully discussed below, that the overall shape of each of the nested cavities 125 and 135 of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions will influence the extent to which the segments of the container 100 are adjacent to or in contact when the container 100 is in the collapsed condition. And it will be appreciated by one of ordinary skill that when the cavities 125 and 135 of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions are nested, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes negatively to the total volume of the container 100 by effectively reducing the total volume of the container by the volume of the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 and by at least a portion of the volume of the internal cavity 125 of the support portion 120. The extent of the volume reduction of the internal cavity 125 of the support portion 120 is influenced by the overall dimensions and shape of the collapsible portion 120.

In various embodiments, the container 100 according to the invention is capable of being manipulated between a collapsed and an expanded condition. The collapsible portion 130 is moved between an expanded position and a collapsed position by actuation of a means located at the interface 200 between the collapsible portion 130 and the support portion 120. As noted above in relation to FIG. 4, when in the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 130 is inverted into the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120. Referring again to FIG. 4, panel B provides a rear perspective view of the container 100 illustrated in FIG. 1, in a collapsed condition, and shows the interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 (which is inverted, and nested within the cavity 125 of the support portion 120). The actuation means 250 is positioned substantially at the interface 200, and is adapted to permit the movement of the collapsible portion 130 between the expanded and the collapsed positions.

Referring still to FIG. 4B, as shown in the depicted embodiment, the actuation means 250 is integral with the container 100 and is adapted to maintain a watertight seal at the interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. Generally, the actuation means 250 is made of a material that is the same as or similar to the material(s) used to make one or both of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. As shown in the various figures provided herein, the actuation means 250 is formed from the same material(s) used to make one or both of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. In other embodiments not illustrated herein, the actuation means 250 may be formed from material that is different from the material(s) used to make one or both of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. In yet other embodiments not illustrated herein, the actuation means 250 may be formed separately from and not integrated with the either or both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. According to such embodiments, the actuation means 250 may be in the form of a gasket, grommet, or other band or seal that is inserted at the interface 200 after manufacture of the support and collapsible portions 120 and 130. And in yet other embodiments, the material forming the actuation means 250 is different from those of the support and collapsible portions 120 and 130 and is inserted or attached to the container 100 as a final assembly step.

In some embodiments, the actuation means 250 is a hinge or hinge like structure. Examples of hinge shapes and configurations suitable for the actuation means 250 according to the instant invention include shapes that have one, two, three, four or more bends. Examples of single bend hinges include hinges that are generally “C,” “U,” or “V” shaped. Examples of double bend hinges include hinges that are generally “S,” or “Z” shaped. Yet other hinges with additional bends may be used according to the invention. According to embodiments wherein the actuation means 250 is a hinge, a variety of hinge shapes and types are known in the art.

According to embodiments of the invention in which the actuation means 250 is a hinge, a variety of hinge shapes and types are known in the art and may be selected therefrom. An example of a type of hinge type that is useful according to the instant invention is a living hinge. As used herein, the term “living hinge” means a hinge with no moving parts that is is characterized by its excellent fatigue resistance. Living hinges are typically formed of thin segments of plastic that connect two parts of an article to keep them together and allow the article to be opened and closed. Living hinges are desirable because they are generally able to flex up to a million or more cycles without failure. The materials used to make a living hinge include very flexible plastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene, and other thermoplastic materials as described herein.

The actuation means 250 shown in FIG. 5 (and the other figures shown herein) is a Z shaped living hinge. Panel A provides a cutaway side view of a container 100 in the expanded condition. The figure features a dotted circle in the lower left hand portion corner highlighting the detail of the actuation means 250. Panel B provides an exploded cut away perspective view of the detailed area from Panel A, showing the Z-shaped living hinge actuation means 250 of the illustrated embodiment. As can be seen in FIG. 5B, the illustrated portion of the actuation means 250 is shown adjacent to the lower support base 115 of the container (bottom right of the figure) and the collapsible portion 130 (upper left of the figure). Still referring to FIG. 5B, the depicted hinge has three legs 251, 252, and 253, arranged in series, with leg 251 adjacent and attached to the support portion 120. Leg 252 is positioned between leg 251 and 253, and leg 253 is in turn adjacent to the collapsible portion 130 of the container 100. The illustrated actuation means 250 allows for the collapsible portion 130 to be inverted from the expanded position by folding along the hinge. FIG. 5C provides a cutaway side view of a container 100 in the collapsed condition, and FIG. 5D and 5E each show a cutaway plan view of the container 100 in the expanded and collapsed conditions, respectively. As can be seen from each of these views, the legs 251 and 252 of the actuation means 250 intersect to form a hinge edge 255 that extends from the surface of the container 100 around the interface 200 between the support and collapsible portions. In alternate embodiments in which a hinge having fewer than three legs is used, the hinge edge may not be present. In yet other embodiments in which additional hinge legs are used or different hinge configurations are used, a more pronounced or differently shaped hinge edge may be present. The choice of hinge, or of living hinge design, is influenced by the properties of material used, including pliability, rigidity, elasticity and the like. Hinge selection is within the skill of those of ordinary skill in the art.

According to the invention, the container 100 has a shape that is suited to containing liquid and other flowable materials. As such, the overall size, shape and configuration of the container 100 may vary as suited to the intended contents and uses by the consumer of the contained goods. Likewise, the relative proportions of the upper end 105, lower support base 115, support portion 120 and collapsible portion 130 may vary as needed to accommodate contents of varying density, viscosity, etc. For particularly small containers, certain shapes may be favored, such as more streamlined cylindrical shapes. For particularly large containers that will hold larger volumes, and hence be heavier upon addition of diluent, less streamlined and more hefty and ergonomically designed shapes may be favored. One of ordinary skill will appreciate that the overall shape and arrangement of features such as dispending openings, handles, and other features may be selected as appropriate to the use of the container.

In some embodiments, the container 100 according to the invention has an overall substantially cylindrical shape. In other embodiments, the container 100 has an overall substantially polyhedral shape. In yet other embodiments, portions of the container 100 has a shape that is a combination of cylindrical and polyhedral shapes. For example, in some embodiments, both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 have a substantially cylindrical shape, wherein the support portion 120 has a substantially arcuate vertical wall, and wherein the collapsible portion 130 has a substantially cylindrical vertical face. In other embodiments, both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 have a substantially polyhedral shape, wherein the support portion 120 has a substantially flat vertical wall bounded by sides that are either substantially flat or rounded, and wherein the collapsible portion 130 has a substantially cylindrical vertical face a substantially flat vertical wall likewise bounded by sides that are either substantially flat or rounded. And in yet other embodiments, one of the support and collapsible portions 120 and 130, respectively, has a substantially polyhedral shape while the other has a substantially cylindrical shape.

In various embodiments, the collapsible portion 130 according to the invention has top and bottom segments 131 and 132 of varying shapes. In some embodiments, the top segment 131 has a domed shape, and the bottom segment 132 is flattened, as shown in the embodiment of the container 100 depicted in the figures, for example, FIG. 2. In yet other embodiments that are not shown, the top segment 131 has a squared or peaked shape, and the bottom segment 132 is rounded. In still other embodiments, the segments of the collapsible portion 130 may be baffled or folded, and may be ribbed, rippled or pleated. One of ordinary skill will appreciate that a variety of combinations of shapes and folds may be used for the top and bottom segments 131 and 132 of the collapsible portion 130 of the container 100 according to the instant invention.

Likewise, the vertical wall 121 of the support portion 120 may be formed in the shape of a cylinder, as mentioned above, wherein the vertical wall 121 is substantially continuous and arcuate in shape. In other embodiments, the vertical wall 121 of the support portion 120 may be generally polyhedral in shape, and formed of a substantially flat front wall 121 bounded by substantially flat or curved side walls 122 and 122′ and have a back wall 123 opposing the flat front wall 121, the back wall 123 being substantially flat or curved.

The interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 may have a variety of shapes and configurations. According to the illustrated embodiment, as shown in representative FIG. 4B, the interface 200 is generally arch shaped on the top and squared on the bottom, the shape being formed by the generally domed shape of the top segment 131 and the generally flatted shape of the bottom segment 133 of the collapsible portion 130. Of course it will be appreciated that variations in the shape of the segments of the collapsible portion 130 will influence the shape of the interface 200, and that generally any shape will be suitable to accommodate the function of actuating movement of the collapsible portion 130 between the expanded and collapsed positions. More generally, containers, such as bottles, having a variety of shapes are well known in the art, and the design of shaped features are known to those of ordinary skill.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the container 100 in accordance with the instant invention has an internal volume that includes the combined volumes of the cavities of the support and collapsible portions. According to the embodiment depicted in the figures, the support portion 120 forms at least one half of the surface area of the container 100 and about one half or more of the volume of the container 100; the collapsible portion 130 forms not more than one half of the surface area of the container 100, and about one half or less of its volume. In alternate embodiments that are not shown, the relative contributions to the container 100 size and volume by each of the collapsible and support portions 130 and 120, respectively, may vary. For example, in some embodiments, the support portion 130 may contribute as little as 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 or 45 percent of the container or its volume. And in other embodiments, the support portion 130 may contribute as much as 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90 or 95 percent of the container or its volume. By varying the sizes, shapes, and relative thickness and rigidity of the collapsible and support portions 130 and 120 of the container 100, a wide variety of container configurations are possible in accordance with the invention.

Referring still to FIG. 1, in its various embodiments, the lower support base 115 and the upper end 105 are on the support portion 120 of the container 100. In various embodiments, the lower support base 115 is either substantially rectangular, square, circular, crescent, or disc-like in shape. The illustrated embodiment has a lower support base 115 that is substantially rectangular, as shown in representative FIG. 3B. The support base 115 is in contact with the support portion 120 at least at the front of its vertical wall 121. In the depicted embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the support base 115 is in contact around its perimeter with the support portion 120 at the front wall 121, side walls 122 and 122′ and back wall 123. Other configurations are possible. In some embodiments, the support base 115 is in contact with the support portion 120 via an edge 140, which is identified in FIG. 3C. The edge 140 may be beveled as shown in the illustrated embodiment, it may be rounded, or it may have another shape, curvature or texture, including one or more levels formed, for example, by one or more beads or crowns. In other embodiments, the support base is in contact with the support portion at substantially a 90 degree angle, in the absence of an edge or bevel.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the upper end 105 of the container 100 includes a dispenser 110. And in the depicted embodiment, the container 100 also includes a handle 112, although it will be appreciated that in other embodiments, the feature of a handle is not included. In various embodiments, the upper end 105 has a shape that is conducive to efficient dispensing of the contents of the container 100. In some embodiments that are not shown, the upper end 105 has a substantially domed shape, with the dispenser positioned at the top of the dome. In other embodiments (not shown), the upper end 105 has a substantially inverted truncated conical shape, with the dispenser positioned at the apex of the cone. And in still other un-shown embodiments, the upper end 105 has a substantially cylindrically shaped neck that is tapered relative to the body of the container, with the dispenser positioned at the top of the neck. It will be appreciate that a wide range of shapes and configurations of bottle tops and dispensers are known in the art and can be adapted for use with the containers of the instant invention.

As mentioned previously, in some embodiments the container 100 has a handle. A handle provides a variety of functions that influence efficient use of the container 100. For particularly large-volume containers, a handle is useful for providing structural support to aid in stacking and weight distribution when the container is filled. A handle is also useful for ergonomic purposes, particularly when the contents are heavy and difficult to dispense merely by grasping the body or neck of the container. Likewise, a handle reduces the need for structural rigidity in the body of the container, which is more important if the container is to be grasped by the body for dispensing. Finally, a handle, when hollow and positioned at or near the top of the container, can aid in venting during dispensing, and thereby improve flow when the contents are dispensed. In embodiments of the container 100 that comprise a handle, the handle 112 may be offset from a central axis of the container, being positioned on the upper end 105 and adjacent to the dispenser 110. In other embodiments, the handle 112 may be positioned on the upper end 105 and inline with the dispenser 110. And in yet other embodiments, the handle 112 may be positioned at some distant location relative to the upper end 105, such as along the vertical wall of the support section 120. And in still other embodiments, the container 100 may have more than one handle 112, each handle being positioned at one or more of the various locations on the container 100, arranged in either a symmetrical or nonsymmetrical relative orientation.

In various embodiments, the container may comprise a closure means 150, as identified in FIG. 2. A variety of closure means for sealing containers and other bottles are well known in the art, and include, but are not limited to openings that have ridges, threads and other structural features for receiving and retaining a closure device, such as a cap or lid. The container 100 may likewise comprise a closure assembly, such as a cap or lid. The closure assembly (not shown) may be in one or more pieces, and may have features that indicate rupture of a seal, protect against opening by children, or protect against leakage or passage of liquid or vapor into or out of the container 100. According to such various embodiments, the closure assembly may be removably coupled to the container 100, or it may be a single use closure. In some embodiments of the invention, a device, such as a pull ring, may be attached to the outside of the collapsible portion 130 to enable the user to manually pull the collapsible portion 130 away from the body of the container 100 when the container is in a collapsed condition.

In all embodiments described above it is understood that the container may come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The figures presented show traditional one gallon and half-gallon bottle container; however, this does not preclude the container from taking on other sizes and shapes, such as all sizes of drums, barrels, boxes, cans, and the like.

Methods of Making Containers

The invention also provides methods for making semi-collapsible containers. Generally, there are many methods for making containers. An exemplary method is extrusion blow molding. The extrusion blow molding process involves multiple steps, including conventional extrusion of a parison or tube, using a die. The parison is commonly extruded downward between one or more sections (usually two halves) of an open blow mold that has an internal shape that forms the shape of the article to be molded. The parison is quite hot, while the internal surface of the mold is relatively cold. When the parison reaches the proper length, the mold is closed, and the parison is caught and held in place at either end. A rod-like blow pin is inserted into the one end of the hot parison to inflate the parison inside the mold cavity, and in some cases, to form a thread or other structure at what will be the dispenser of the container. After the blown article cools, the mold is opened and the article is removed or ejected. The article is then processed to trim any excess plastic from the areas that were pinched at the neck and bottom and along the seams of the mold. The procedures for forming bottles and other containers are well known. For example, see Modern Plastics Encyclopedia, Vol. 54, No. 10A, 1977-1978, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. (e.g., section on “Blow Molding” at page 230, et seq.; also see section on “Injection Blow Molding” at page 232 et seq.).

According to the invention, modifications to the blow molding process provide for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article. The process includes the steps of forming a parison from at least one polymeric resinous material; positioning the parison in a blow mold having an inner shape that defines the shape of the article to include at least one support portion and at least one collapsible portion, and introducing air into the parison to force the parison to conform to the inner shape of the mold; and finally processing the blown article, including the steps, in any order, of removing the article from the mold and inverting a collapsible portion of the article into an interior space within a support portion of the article.

The step of collapsing the container may be achieved by introducing an additional mandrel bearing a punch or other tool that conforms to the shape of the support portion and is adapted for removable insertion to effectively collapse the container without causing damage to its structure. Alternatively, the collapsing step may be performed manually, such as with a hand, or a specially adapted tool. In some embodiments, the parison is formed from at least two different polymeric resinous materials, at least one of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one support portion, and another of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one collapsible portion. According to such embodiments, containers having portions made of different materials can be made, such as containers in which the collapsible portion and the support portions vary in their flexibility, rigidity, elasticity, or opacity or color.

Use of Containers

Containers of the instant invention are intended for use by consumers of a variety of products of an industrial, household, or other nature, that can be provided in a concentrated form (either powder, liquid, or other form) for later suspension, reconstitution or dilution. The cavity of the support portion that is available in the collapsed condition of the containers provides sufficient space to contain active ingredients or a concentrated liquid solution. Accordingly, after manufacture of a container, it is ready for placement of an appropriate amount of active ingredient or concentrated solution into the container. Thereafter, the container is sealed. An advantage of the container design according to the invention is that the addition of product to the collapsed container results in some degree of distortion of the container and an attendant increase in the internal volume. Thus, if a seal is applied to the container immediately upon addition of the product, a vacuum will form due to the increase in internal volume caused by the force of the added product. In some instances, manufactures and packagers may be spared the requirement of evacuation if the product contents are otherwise stable.

After the product in the container is purchased, the user adds water or another appropriate solvent to the container to arrive at the correct concentration of product. As the liquid is added, the collapsible portion expands and moves out of the interior of the support portion and assumes its shape as it is filled with the added solvent. In general, in some embodiments of the invention, the collapsible material does not necessarily rely on significant elasticity to accommodate increases in container volume. The material itself does not substantially stretch or shrink when liquid is added or removed, only the shape of the collapsible material changes to increase or decrease the volume capacity of the container. When the container is in either the expanded or the collapsed condition, the bottom of the support portion supports and maintains the container in an upright position when set onto an level surface.

The flexibility of the internal volume and outside dimensions of the container allow for efficiency gains in the packing and shipping of containers by conserving overall space and volume when containers are situated next to one another. Containers can be designed in a manner where the shape of the support portion fits into the shape of the non-expanded pliable portion. Generally, the shape of the support portion is compatible with the shape of the collapsible portion. This allows the support portion of a container to be seated adjacent to the collapsible portion of a container situated next to it, however, the shelf space needed to accommodate the containers is smaller. When viewed from the front by a shopper, the containers on a shelf appear very similar to traditional containers, and include labels, markings and other product-related indicia typically associated with more traditionally packaged products.

Manufactures, retailers and customers alike further benefit from the space saving design of the container, since the void provided in the outwardly facing concavities of the body of the container provide a space that can be used for enclosing tools for use with the container, such as pumps, measuring cups or spoons, dispensing containers, additional caps and the like. The space can also be used for enclosing instructions. And the space can be used for enclosing promotional items, such as coupons, juice glasses, children's toys, and other items that appeal to consumers.

The embodiments described above are examples only, and are not intended to limit the scope of the claims set forth below. Variations to the inventions described herein, including alternate embodiments not specifically described, are quiet possible and are encompassed by the claims as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art. Indeed, the claimed inventions have their broad and ordinary meaning as set forth below in the claims.