Title:
Utility bench
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A utility bench that may be collapsed and easily transported, having a seating pad, upper frame, lower frame, and multiple support struts. The frames and struts comprise a plurality of strong lightweight tubular components connected by joint components. The bench is easy to assemble and folds compactly for storage. In a first preferred embodiment, the lower frame contains storage connectors for receiving and retaining the support struts when the bench is in a collapsed condition. In a second preferred embodiment, the frame structure is opened along one end of a set of struts, laid flat, and folded in a map-like closed position. The hollow rectangular design of the utility bench provides storage for additional items inside the bench frame such as a wheeled canopy case or other container, thus providing a rolling base for the frame to easily transport the utility bench, canopy, and/or gear to the desired location.



Inventors:
Benites, Gabriel M. (San Antonio, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/429653
Publication Date:
11/30/2006
Filing Date:
05/04/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47C7/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WILSON, KAITLIN A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KAMMER BROWNING PLLC (SAN ANTONIO, TX, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A bench that may be collapsed and easily transported, the bench comprising: a support surface; an upper frame, positioned in association with the support surface; a lower frame; and a plurality of support struts, the support struts connecting the upper frame to the lower frame to form a generally rectangular frame structure.

2. The bench of claim 1, wherein the lower frame, the upper frame, and the support struts comprise a plurality of tubular components connected together by a plurality of joint components.

3. The bench of claim 2, wherein the tubular components are comprised of PVC pipe.

4. The bench of claim 1, wherein the support surface comprises a fabric material covering a rigid rectangular frame.

5. The bench of claim 4, wherein the support surface further comprises a cushion.

6. The bench of claim 4, wherein the fabric material is weatherproof.

7. The bench of claim 4, wherein the support surface is removably attached to the upper frame.

8. The bench of claim 7, wherein the support surface is removably attached to the upper frame by hook and loop fastener surfaces positioned on the support surface and the upper frame.

9. The bench of claim 1, wherein the lower frame further comprises a plurality of storage connectors for receiving and retaining the plurality of support struts when the bench is in a collapsed condition.

10. The bench of claim 9, wherein the storage connectors position the support struts within the generally planar structure of the lower frame.

11. The bench of claim 1, wherein each member of a first set of the plurality of support struts has a first end releasably attached and a second end pivotally attached between the upper frame and the lower frame, so as to allow the generally rectangular frame structure to open and lay flat, and further wherein each member of a second set of the plurality of support struts has a first end and a second end pivotally attached between the upper frame and the lower frame.

12. The bench of claim 11, wherein the generally rectangular frame structure, having been opened and laid flat, is folded in a map-like closed position for storage.

13. The bench of claim 1, wherein the generally rectangular frame structure is sized to encompass a collapsible canopy and wheeled canopy carrying case, so as to provide a wheeled base for the frame structure.

14. The bench of claim 1, wherein the generally rectangular frame structure is sized to encompass a hollow container so as to provide a means for facilitating the transport of objects within the frame structure.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO CORRESPONDING APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit under Title 35 United States Code §119(e) of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/677,455 filed May 4, 2005.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates generally to portable furniture. The present invention more specifically relates to a lightweight, collapsible, easily transportable bench which can also be used to facilitate the transport of sports gear and accessories.

2. Description of the Related Art

Portable furniture fulfills many functions for active people. Benches are commonly used to provide compact seating for indoor or outdoor youth activities, such as sports activities, church events, or family gatherings. While seating may be the primary use for these benches, they are also useful for gear such as refreshment dispensers, sports equipment, or first aid supplies. Simple durable construction makes this type of seating cost effective and sufficiently strong to support multiple individuals and/or various kinds of equipment.

Because seating is often limited or nonexistent at youth activities, such as soccer, baseball, or track events, individuals typically bring their own lawn chairs, portable stools, and blankets. Church or family gatherings at urban park areas also often require attendees to bring their own seating. Other outdoor activities such as fishing or picnicking can also require support surfaces in even more remote locations.

Furthermore, there is also the need to carry the necessary equipment for the sporting event or practice, such as gear bags, refreshments, and sun/rain canopies. It is a familiar sight to view people making numerous trips to and from their vehicle to the event location carrying various loads of equipment and personal supplies. A parent or coach of the youth sports enthusiast appreciates any assistance that will ease the effort required to setup and tear down sideline support in preparation for these activities.

While there are various types of collapsible seating on the market, there remain a number of unmet needs in the prior art. The prior art includes folding chairs and tables, some of which are transportable. However, these devices often sacrifice any lightweight advantage for increased weight-bearing strength. Other attempts to create multi-person seating include devices that attach to a vehicle used for transporting equipment.

U.S. Patent Application No. US2004/0183265 A1 filed by Vecchio entitled Smart Cart Beach Chair describes a vehicle that assists the individual in transporting equipment to and from an automobile to the outdoor event location. It has flexibility in that it can act as single-person seating at the location of the event, but cannot support multi-person seating. When not in use, the device does not collapse and occupies the space of a typical arm chair.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,854,797 B1 issued to Thomas entitled Foldable Bench describes a bench having at least a pair of seating sections and leg assemblies designed for ease of setup and collapse. While this device attempts to address multiple person seating and collapsibility, its complexity increases its weight. In addition, the bench is not designed to assist with the transport of additional items.

Other prior art addresses the issue of multi-person seating where the transporting automobile is present, but rely on the vehicle for operation and will not function or are less effective at an event that is remote from the vehicle. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,631,938 B1 issued to Bums entitled Retractable Tailgate Bench describes a retractable bench that attaches to the tailgate of a pick-up truck or sport utility vehicle. Multi-person seating is provided but is attached to the vehicle and has little utility for those activities at which a vehicle is not permitted near the event location. The bench remains physically attached to the interior of the vehicle, thereby interfering with the free use of the vehicle when the bench is not in use.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,197,381 issued to Mells entitled Vehicle Supported, Collapsible Portable Seating Device describes a bench-like outdoor seating platform that attaches to an open trunk of an automobile or cargo bed of a pick-up truck with a pair of hooks and adjustable straps that will conveniently collapse for storage. This seating device also relies on the vehicle for utility.

As can be seen in the prior art, attempts have been made to provide methods for outdoor seating, but these devices fall short in addressing the need for multi-person seating that can easily be collapsed and transported to the playing field. Moreover, none of the devices are designed to conform and integrate with commonly used collapsible shelters. Furthermore, it would be desirable to have a portable bench device which could accommodate sports bags, gear bags, and/or refreshment containers, thus enabling a single user to transport multiple items with ease.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The utility bench of the present invention provides multi-person portable seating that can easily be collapsed and readily transported to the playing field or other location. The bench device is lightweight and easy to carry, yet sturdy and durable in design and construction. Additionally, the utility bench can be used to facilitate the transport of sports gear, refreshments, and accessories to and from the event site. The device is easy to assemble and disassemble and folds compactly for transport and storage.

The open box design of the utility bench allows the user to position additional items inside the bench frame such as a typical portable canopy and carrying case, thus allowing the user to transport a canopy and seating simultaneously. The utility bench is designed to be compatible with various commercially available sun/rain canopies. The device can fit around a wheeled canopy case, as is known in the art, thus improving transport efficiency. By placing the wheeled case inside the frame of the present invention, the user may easily transport the utility bench, canopy, gear bags, refreshment coolers, water jugs, etc. on top of or attached to the bench and roll the combined load to the desired location. Moreover, the present invention is so lightweight and simple in design that it can be lifted by a child and readily assembled.

The basic design of the bench of the present invention includes a seating pad, top frame, bottom frame, and multiple supports. The frame of the utility bench is constructed from a lightweight, rigid, strong material such as PVC or aluminum pipe. The seating pad is made of a weatherproof multi-layered fabric for durability, strength, and comfort. The seating pad is positioned over the top frame and secured with Velcro® tabs or other attachment means well known in the art.

In a first embodiment of the present invention, the bench is collapsed by removing the supports from the top frame and bottom frame and inserting them into open joints on the bottom frame for transport and storage. The seating pad, top frame, and bottom frame are placed on top of one another compactly for storage. When the bench is reassembled, the supports are quickly removed and easily inserted between the top frame and bottom frame. The seating pad is then positioned on the top frame and securely attached.

In a second embodiment of the present invention, the bench is collapsed by disconnecting one side of the supports from their receiver joints on the top frame, thus allowing the bench to unfold and lay flat. The bench can then be folded much like a map, with the top frame and bottom frame still interconnected. The seating frame likewise remains attached to the upper frame, compactly folding flat for storage.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a first preferred embodiment of the utility bench of the present invention showing the seating pad lifted off of the top frame;

FIG. 2 is a detailed view of the components of a first preferred embodiment of the utility bench of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a detailed view of the components of a second preferred embodiment of the utility bench of the present invention;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a second preferred embodiment of the utility bench of the present invention showing the seating pad lifted off of the top frame;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the utility bench of the present invention shown in a folded position; and

FIG. 6 is a side view of the utility bench of the present invention shown transportable with a canopy carrier.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Reference is made to FIG. 1 which is an exploded perspective view of the major components of the present invention with the support frame structure configured according to a first embodiment of the invention. Utility bench 10 is comprised primarily of assembled base frame component 2 and seating surface component 4. Seating surface component 4 is comprised primarily of seating frame assembly 14 and seating surface 12. Seating frame assembly 14 is a rigid, generally open, rectangular frame that surrounds and retains a generally rectangular fabric seating surface 12. Fabric seating surface 12 is stretched taut and attached to the seating frame 14, as shown in FIG. 1. Seating surface 12 may be a fabric material, preferably of a type suitable for use in an indoor or outdoor environment. Fabric constructed of soft polyester fibers that may be stretched across seating frame assembly 14 and secured back on itself around the individual edge components of the seating frame would be suitable. The fabric may be attached (sewn, snapped, zipped, etc.) to itself to form a secure fabric platform. Alternatively, the seating surface may include a cushion for increased comfort.

A number of fastener components 16 are positioned on the underside of seating frame 14 so as to detachably secure seating surface component 4 to the assembled base frame component 2 (specifically to the upper frame 6 as described in each of the two preferred embodiments discussed in more detail below). These fasteners 16 may be one half of a hook and loop type fastening system as shown in FIG. 1. Alternate fastening means that releasably secure seating surface component 4 may be used. A plurality of fasteners 16 are positioned on the underside of seating frame 14 and aligned with corresponding fastener components 34 positioned on assembled base frame component 2 as shown. Once again, while in the preferred embodiment, fastener 16 may be hook and loop type fastener components, a variety of different releasably attachable fasteners may be utilized in conjunction with the present invention.

Also disclosed in FIG. 1 are the elements of base frame component 2 that allow for its assembly and disassembly in the first preferred embodiment of the present invention. Upright supports 40 in the embodiment shown in FIG. 1 are movable between a storage position (shown in dashed outline form in FIG. 1) to an upright in-use position supporting the upper and lower elements of base frame component 2. Storage joints 54 and 56 in the lower frame element of assembled base frame component 2 are utilized to store upright supports 40 when not in use.

Referring now to FIG. 2, a partially disassembled configuration of the utility bench 10 of the present invention is disclosed. In this view, utility bench 10 is separated into seating surface component 4, upper frame element 6, and lower frame element 8. It will be understood that upper frame element 6 and lower frame element 8 together comprise assembled base frame component 2 shown in FIG. 1. In the view in FIG. 2 upright supports 40 have all been removed from their useful support position extending between upper frame element 6 and lower frame element 8 and have been stored as described above in storage joints 54 and 56 positioned as shown in the structure of lower frame element 8.

The various additional components of upper frame element 6 and lower frame element 8 are disclosed in detail in FIG. 2. In this view, seating surface component 4 is once again removed from its useful position attached to upper frame element 6 by way of the attachment mechanisms described above. Upper frame element 6 is comprised of a plurality of semi-rigid tubular sections joined together to form a dual-ladder type frame constructed of lightweight tubular PVC, tubular metal, or similar material. Upper frame element 6 is constructed by connecting the various tubular sections together in the generally rectangular configuration shown, utilizing commercially available fittings, joints, and connectors. Center struts 32 in upper frame element 6 are joined to a number of center-bracing cross points 26 to form a longitudinal center support. Connected at right angles and also longitudinally to the center-bracing cross points 26 are brace struts 30. This assembly provides a level of rigidity and strength to the upper frame element 6 and further provides support to the seating surface when the utility bench 10 is fully assembled.

The remainder of upper frame 6 consists of various components that form the perimeter of the rectangular frame structure. Brace struts 30 terminate with perimeter brace tie connectors 24 (T-connectors for example). Positioned at right angles to brace struts 30 and joined with bracing tie points 24, are frame struts 28. Corner receiver joints 20 and side receiver joints 22 serve to connect the plurality of frame struts 28 to form the balance of the perimeter portion of upper frame element 6. On this perimeter portion of upper frame element 6, receiver joints 22 and 20 serve to provide the connection points for positioning removable upright supports 40. These receiver joints 20 and 22 may, in the preferred embodiment, be commercially available T-connectors or side-outlet 90° connectors and are oriented to provide a connection perpendicular to the plane of upper frame element 6 in the direction of lower frame element 8. Upright supports 40 are removed from their storage positions (described above) and placed in these receiver joints 20 and 22 to form the sides of the rectangular box frame of the utility bench 10 of the present invention.

Lower frame element 8 as shown in FIG. 2 is comprised of a plurality of semi-rigid tubular components to form a single-ladder type frame constructed of lightweight tubular PVC, tubular metal, or similar material. Lower frame element 8 is constructed by connecting the tubular components together at the angles indicated (generally right angles) utilizing commercially available fittings such as right angle connectors and T-connectors. The center of lower frame element 8 includes center receiver storage joints 56 that are joined to the frame and to each other using brace struts 62 to form a lateral center support across lower frame element 8. Connected at right angles and also longitudinally to brace struts 62 are brace tie points 58. These brace tie points 58 are established within the perimeter section of lower frame element 8. The perimeter section of lower frame element 8 comprises a plurality of frame struts 60 connected by a plurality of support receiver joints 52 and the above-mentioned brace tie points 58. Additional frame struts 60 are joined to corner receiver joints 50 to provide the right angle corners of lower frame element 8. In a manner similar to that of the center section of lower frame element 8, corner receiver joints 50 connect by way of short tube sections (hidden in this view) connecting to side receiver storage points 54. The remaining frame struts 60 serve to complete the perimeter of lower frame element 8.

Corner receiver joints 50 and side receiver joints 52 provide the points for locating upright supports 40 as described above. These types of receiver joints are commercially available T-connectors or side outlet 90° connectors and are oriented to allow upright supports 40 to connect perpendicular to the general plane of lower frame element 8 in the direction of upper frame element 6. In the process of assembling the utility bench 10 of the present invention, upright supports 40 are removed from their storage positions shown in FIG. 2 and placed into these receiver joints 50 and 52 of lower frame element 8 and the receiver joints 20 and 22 in upper frame element 6. The number of upright supports 40 (eight in the preferred embodiment) and the tightness of their fit into the respective receiver joints allow a significant level of strength and rigidity to the assembled utility bench 10. The placement of weight such as by individuals or equipment being positioned on seating surface 12, serves to force upright supports 40 further into the respective receiving joints rather than to pull them apart. In this manner, the use of the assembled utility bench 10 reinforces the strength of the assembled upright supports 40.

Reference is now made to FIG. 3 for a description of an alternate preferred embodiment of utility bench 10 of the present invention. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3 modifications to the structure of the lower frame element 8, and to a lesser extent, upper frame element 6, serve to provide an alternative means for collapsing the utility bench 10 of the present invention. In FIG. 3, upper frame element 6 is comprised of a plurality of frame struts 118 and brace struts 120 and 122 to form the support surface framework for utility bench 10. Bracing cross points 116 configure the core of upper frame element 6. Extending out from bracing cross points 116 are perimeter brace struts 120 and center brace struts 122. These struts 120 and 122 extend out to the perimeter components of upper frame 6 which primarily comprises frame struts 118. Corner joints 110, side receiver joints 112, and bracing tie points 114 serve to connect the plurality of frame struts 118 to form the balance of upper frame element 6. A number of attachment components (shown as dark patches in this view) may be positioned on the upper surface of upper frame element 6 in a manner that aligns them with similar attachment components positioned on the underside of seating surface 4, all in a manner similar to that described above in conjunction with the first preferred embodiment of the present invention.

Upright supports 130 and 132 in this second embodiment shown in FIG. 3 are in this case not entirely removed from the receiver joints, but rely instead upon the receiver joints rotating or pivoting about their positions on the perimeters of upper frame element 6 and lower frame element 8. In this embodiment, lower frame element 8 is constructed primarily of a plurality of frame struts 150 connected in a manner similar to the lower frame element shown in FIG. 2. The balance of lower frame element 8 shown in FIG. 3 is constructed of corner joints 140, side receiver joints 142 (which retain upright supports 130), side receiver storage joints 144, as well as center receiver storage joints 146. Bracing tie points 148 and brace struts 152 complete the framework structure of lower frame element 8.

In this second preferred embodiment, upright supports 130 and 132 have essentially been moved from the corners of the upper and lower frame elements to rotatable/pivotal T-connectors positioned immediately adjacent to the corners of the frame elements. The process of collapsing the alternative embodiment shown in FIG. 3 may be accomplished with either the removal of upright supports 130 or their semi-permanent attachment to the rotating/pivoting connectors 142 and 112. If permanently connected to these receiver joints, upright supports 130 and 132 would not require the use of storage components 144 and 146 as described above with the first embodiment. It would be possible, however, to utilize the embodiment shown in FIG. 3 by either providing for the complete removal of upright supports 130 and 132 or allowing for their removal only as shown, that is, from a single longitudinal edge of the constructed rectangular box forming the utility bench. In either case, the assembly shown is constructed so as to collapse and lay flat, either by its disassembly into separate planar components, or by folding the opened and laid out sides of the rectangular box in the nature of a map-fold wherein the upright struts cross between the collapsed upper frame element 6 and lower frame element 8. The “loose” upright struts 132 positioned in this case towards the front portion of the bench shown in FIG. 3 may be rotated back to lie within the perimeter of lower frame element 8 for the complete collapse and storage of the utility bench 10. The collapsed assembly would thereby comprise essentially four layers; first the set of “loose” upright struts 132, second the lower frame element 8, third the set of “captive” upright struts 130, and fourth the upper frame element 6.

Reference is now made to FIG. 4 for a brief description of the assembled configuration of the second preferred embodiment of the present invention. In the view shown in FIG. 4, seating surface 4 is again shown removed for clarity, but positioned above the point of its assembly with assembled base frame component 2 of utility bench 10 of the present invention. As described above, upright supports 130 and 132 in this view extend from the longitudinal sides of the upper and lower frame elements 6 and 8 of the assembled base frame component 2. In this configuration, disassembly by way of folding the various components together rather than removing them completely one from the other is made possible. In any case, seating surface 4 may be retained on upper frame element 6 during and after the process of collapsing the bench.

FIG. 5 discloses the completely collapsed configuration of the utility bench 10 of the present invention with seating surface 12 positioned on the top of the collapsed components of the framework. This view generally represents the collapsed configuration of the second preferred embodiment of the present invention, insofar as the upright supports are rotated inward on their pivoting T-connectors about the periphery of the lower frame element of the assembly. The configuration of the collapsed first embodiment of the present invention would however provide essentially the same profile as that of the second embodiment shown in FIG. 5.

Reference is again made to FIG. 1 as well as newly referenced FIG. 6, for a brief description of the basis for the configuration shown and the open interior structure of both the first and second preferred embodiments of the present invention. One aspect of the present invention that provides benefit to both portability and utility is the generally open rectangular configuration established by the framework components of the first preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 1 as well as the second preferred embodiment shown best assembled in FIG. 4. In either of these two embodiments, the open ends of the frame assembly allow for the insertion of a generally rectangular solid structure of the type typically associated with commercially available portable canopy carrying cases and the like. Often associated with the use of collapsible chairs, tables, and the like at sporting events and other outdoor activities, are foldable portable canopies to provide shade to the occupants. The structure of the present invention is designed to easily accommodate, that is, surround and enclose the standard sized portable canopy carrier in a manner that facilitates the transport of both the portable canopy carrier and the utility bench of the present invention. Many such portable canopy carrier devices are fixed with wheels (as shown in FIG. 6 on one pair of corners, such that the entire assembly may be rolled from one place to another. The structure of the present invention is such as to allow the utility bench 10 (in its assembled configuration) to slip around the rectangular solid structure of the canopy carrying case and to be transported with the wheeled (or un-wheeled) canopy case.

In a similar manner, other empty rectangular cases might likewise be enclosed within the framework of the utility bench of the present invention, and thereby be utilized to carry various other accessories, associated with the sporting event, or any other outdoor activity benefiting from the use of the utility bench. Such rectangular carrying cases may be soft-sided and thereby be supported by the semi-rigid framework of the present invention, or may be hard-sided and simply sized to fit within the framework of the present invention to facilitate the transport of the contents of the container.

Although the present invention has been described in terms of the foregoing preferred embodiments, this description has been provided by way of explanation only, and is not intended to be construed as a limitation of the invention. Those skilled in the art will recognize modifications of the present invention that might accommodate specific uses and activities. Such modifications as to size, geometry, and configuration, where such modifications are merely coincidental to the specific use or activity, do not necessarily depart from the spirit and scope of the invention.