Title:
Toy figure having a segment of plush construction enveloped by a casing of elastomeric gel
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A toy figure assembly and its method of construction. The toy figure has a plush structure comprised of fabric material. The plush structure is filled with soft stuffing in the traditional manner of plush toy construction. The plush structure has at least one protruding section, such as a head, that protrudes from the main body of the plush structure. A molded shell of elastomeric gel material is provided. The molded shell is hollow, having an opening that enables the molded shell to be stretched over another object. The molded shell is stretched over the protruding section of the plush structure so that the protruding section is enveloped by the molded shell. The molded shell is molded with external details, such as facial features. The molded shell therefore provides the visual details to the protruding section of the plush structure that it covers.



Inventors:
Chernick, Mark (Woodinville, WA, US)
Nelson, Webb T. (Woodinville, WA, US)
Application Number:
11/522140
Publication Date:
03/29/2007
Filing Date:
09/18/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
446/385
International Classes:
A63H3/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
CEGIELNIK, URSZULA M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LAMORTE & ASSOCIATES P.C. (YARDLEY, PA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A toy figure assembly, comprising: a plush structure comprised of fabric material, said plush structure having a protruding section; plush fill material stuffing said plush structure; a molded shell of elastomeric gel material covering said protruding section of said plush structure.

2. The assembly according to claim 1, wherein said molded shell of elastomeric gel has external features molded thereon.

3. The assembly according to claim 2, wherein said external features are facial features.

4. The assembly according to claim 2, wherein said external features include hair protrusions.

5. The assembly according to claim 1, wherein said protruding section of said plush structure that is covered by said molded shell has contours, wherein said molded shell conforms to said contours.

6. The assembly according to claim 1, wherein said molded shell defines an opening through which said section of said plush structure passes.

7. The assembly according to claim 6, wherein said molded shell is joined to said plush structure along a common seam located proximate said opening in said molded shell.

8. The assembly according to claim 7, wherein said plush structure and said molded shell are joined by adhesive along said common seam.

9. The assembly according to claim 8, wherein said adhesive is a thermoset glue.

10. The assembly according to claim 7, wherein said plush structure and said molded shell are joined by melt bonding along said common seam.

11. The assembly according to claim 7, wherein said plush structure and said molded shell are sewn together along said common seam.

12. A toy figure comprising: a body having a head section; a molded shell of elastomeric gel material stretched over said head section of said body, wherein said molded shell envelops said head section.

13. The figure according to claim 12, wherein said molded shell contains facial features.

14. The figure according to claim 12, wherein said molded shell contains hair protrusions.

15. The figure according to claim 12, wherein said body is a plush body having a fabric exterior stuffed with soft fill material.

16. The figure according to claim 15, wherein said molded shell is affixed to said plush body along a common seam.

17. A method of constructing a toy figure, comprising the steps of: providing a plush body having a fabric exterior stuffed with soft fill material, wherein said plush body has a head section; providing a molded shell of elastomeric material, wherein said molded shell has external facial features molded thereon; and advancing said molded shell over said head section of said plush body, wherein said molded shell envelops said head section.

18. The assembly according to claim 17, further including the step of affixing part of said molded shell to said plush body, therein preventing said molded shell from being removed from said plush body.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a Continuation-In-Part of copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/237,817, entitled, Toy Figure That Combines Plush Construction With Elastomeric Gel, which was filed Sep. 29, 2005.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

In general, the present invention relates to manufacturing techniques used in the fabrication of toy figures. More particularly, the present invention relates to techniques used to combine fabric construction materials with synthetic elastomeric construction materials to produce figures that embody sections of different tactile characteristics.

2. Prior Art Description

In the toy industry, “plush toys” is the name used to describe toys with a fabric-based construction. Such toys include stuffed animals, dolls and the like. Traditionally, plush toys are made by sewing together a fabric shell from some type of material, such as cotton or synthetic fur. The fabric shell defines the external shape of the toy. The fabric shell is then stuffed with polyester fibers or some similar type of stuffing material. Hard objects, such as button eyes, can then be either sewn or glued to the exterior of the fabric shell.

Throughout the long history of plush toys, there have been many occasions where toy manufacturers have attempted to make toy figures that have both soft plush features and hard non-plush features. For instance, there are many dolls that have hard porcelain heads and hands, but the remainder of the doll is made with traditional plush fabric material. In order to join hard components, such as a doll head to a plush fabric body, the hard component is typically made with a grooved base. The fabric material of the plush section is passed around the grooved base and tightened with thread. The fabric material tightens within the groove, therein creating a mechanical interconnection between the plush section of the toy and the non-plush section.

As the materials used to make toys evolved, many toys began to be manufactured from different types of plastic, rather than fabric. For instance, many dolls have bodies made from hard plastic. The heads of these dolls, however, are often molded from a softer, more pliable plastic. Although only plastic is used, the type of connections between the two different types of plastic parts remains traditional. Typically, the toy part made from the harder plastic is molded with a grooved base. The toy part made from the softer plastic is made with an opening that can be stretched around the grooved base. When the opening of the softer plastic contracts into the groove of the harder plastic, a mechanical interconnection is created that joins the different plastic sections.

In the toy industry, elastomeric gels are becoming increasingly popular. Elastomeric gels are triblock copolymer plastics that have been mixed with a plasticizing oil to form an elastic gel. Elastomeric gels embody a high degree of elasticity and a high resistance to tearing that makes such gels useful in toy manufacturing. There are currently several elastomeric gels that are commercially available. One of the earliest elastomeric gels is exemplified by U.S. Pat. No. 4,369,284 to Chen, entitled Thermoplastic Elastomer Gelatinous Compositions.

Elastomeric gels are typically molded into toys such as balls and flying discs using traditional injection molding techniques. The use of injection molding techniques prohibits elastomeric gels from being molded directly onto a non-plastic plush form. In industry, elastomeric gels have been applied to fabric objects, such as socks, in order to provide cushioning. Consider U.S. Pat. No. 6,406,499 to Kania, entitled Gel And Cushioning Devices. In such applications the fabric body is dipped into a vat of molten elastomeric gel material. The elastomeric gel material is then given time to cure upon the fabric body.

A problem occurs when a toy manufacturer desires to create a figure that is part plush and part elastomeric gel. Traditional mechanical attachment techniques do not work. Since the elastomeric gel is so elastic, it easily pulls away from any sort of grooved connection base it may be stretched across. Furthermore, elastomeric gels cannot be molded onto plush toys, nor can elements of a plush toy figure be created by molten dipping.

A need therefore exists for an improved technique for joining elastomeric gels to the fabric shell of an otherwise plush toy. This need is met by the present invention as is described and claimed below.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is a toy figure assembly and its method of construction. The toy figure has a plush structure comprised of fabric material. The plush structure is filled with soft stuffing in the traditional manner of plush toy construction. The plush structure has at least one protruding section, such as a head, that protrudes from the main body of the plush structure.

A molded shell of elastomeric gel material is provided. The molded shell is hollow, having an opening that enables the molded shell to be stretched over another object. The molded shell is stretched over the protruding section of the plush structure so that the protruding section is enveloped by the molded shell. The molded shell is molded with external details, such as facial features. The molded shell, therefore, provides the visual details to the protruding section of the plush structure that it covers. The molded shell can optionally be attached to the plush body so that it cannot be separated from the plush body.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For a better understanding of the present invention, reference is made to the following description of exemplary embodiments thereof, considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a front view of an exemplary toy figure;

FIG. 2 is an exploded view of the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of a common seam used in the exemplary embodiment;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of a second embodiment of a common seam; and

FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view of a third embodiment of a common seam.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

There are countless varieties of plush toys. The present invention is described using one exemplary configuration of a plush toy. This configuration is intended to be merely exemplary of any plush toy configuration and should not be considered a limitation on the application of the present invention to other plush toy configurations.

Referring to both FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, there is shown a toy FIG. 10. The toy FIG. 10 has a plush body 12 made in the traditional manner. The plush body 12 is made from a sewn fabric exterior 14 that is stuffed with dry fill material, such as polyester fibers. In the shown embodiment, the toy FIG. 10 is a doll. The plush body 12 of the toy FIG. 10 includes the head section 16, torso section 17, arms 19 and legs (not shown) of the toy FIG. 10.

The head section 16 of the toy FIG. 10 has no detailed features. Rather, the head section 16 of the toy FIG. 10 is blank, being no more than a shell of fabric that is stuffed with filling. Although the head section 16 has no facial details, it may be contoured into the general shape of a head. That is, the head section 16 may have a nose bump 23 or other features such as a chin bump 25, cheek bumps 27, and the like.

A pre-molded elastomeric shell 30 is provided. The elastomeric shell 30 has an exterior that is detailed with facial features 32. That is, facial features 32, such as eyes, nose, mouth, ears and the like are readily discernable on the exterior of the elastomeric shell 30. Furthermore, hair 34 extends from the elastomeric shell 30. In the shown embodiment, the hair 34 is configured as a plurality of protruding tentacles. However, finer and thicker hair types can also be used.

The elastomeric shell 30 is hollow. A opening 36 is present on the bottom of the elastomeric shell 30 that enables the elastomeric shell 30 to be stretched over the head section 16 of the plush body 12 of the toy FIG. 10. The entire elastomeric shell 30 is molded from an elastomeric gel material. As a result, all the features embodied by the elastomeric shell 30 are highly elastic. It will therefore be understood that the hair 34 and facial features 32 of the toy FIG. 10 can be elastically stretched by a person pulling on these parts.

The elastomeric shell 30 is stretched over the head section 16 of the plush body 12. The opening 36 at the bottom of the elastomeric shell 30 is preferably smaller than the maximum diameter of the head section 16. In this manner, the opening 36 must be stretched larger in order for the elastomeric shell 30 to pass over the head section 16. Furthermore, once the head section 16 of the plush body 12 is inserted into the elastomeric shell 30, the opening 36 tends to close tightly around the neck of the plush body 12, therein making the elastomeric shell 30 difficult to pull off the head section 16 of the plush body 12.

The interior of the elastomeric shell 30 is also preferably slightly smaller than the size of the head section 16 of the plush body 12. In this manner, the elastomeric shell 30 is slightly stretched as the head section 16 of the plush body 12 passes into the elastomeric shell 30. Since the elastomeric shell 30 is stretched over the head section 16 of the plush body 12, the elastomeric shell 30 conforms to the contours of the head section 16. If the head section 16 has a nose bump 23, such as is shown, the elastomeric shell 30 conforms to the nose bump 23. Similarly, if the head section 16 of the plush body 12 has cheek bumps 27, a chin bump 25, or the like, the elastomeric shell 30 will conform to these shapes.

The elastomeric shell 30 can be placed onto the head section 16 of the plush body 12, wherein the elastomeric shell 30 remains in place by elastic adhesion. However, this allows the elastomeric shell 30 to be removed from the toy FIG. 10 by a consumer. If a toy manufacturer wants the elastomeric shell 30 to remain in place permanently, the elastomeric shell 30 must be affixed to the fabric of the plush body 12.

It is preferred that the elastomeric shell 30 remain elastic across its structure. In this manner, the hair 34 and facial features 32 on the elastic shell 30 can be elastically stretched and pulled away from the underlying head section 16 of the plush body 12. Accordingly, it is not desirable to adhesively adhere the elastomeric shell 30 to the head section 16 of the plush body 12 at all points of contact. Rather, it is only around the rim of the opening 36 at the bottom of the elastic shell 30 that needs to be joined to the plush body 12. The physical interconnection between the elastomeric shell 30 and the plush body 12 is accomplished by creating a common seam 40 between the two materials. The common seam 40 can be accomplished in a few ways.

Referring to FIG. 3, a segment of the common seam 40 is shown. In the segment of the common seam 40, it can be seen that a thin layer of the elastomeric shell 30 overlaps a segment of the fabric exterior 14 that forms the plush body 12. A thermoset glue 44 is used to bond the elastomeric shell 30 to the fabric plush body 12. The thermoset glue 44 is comprised of a triblock copolymer that is mixed with a resin and optionally with a small amount of plasticizing oil. Such glues are commercially available and are exemplified by U.S. Pat. No. 6,391,960, to Sambasivam, entitled Multipurpose Hot Melt Adhesive. The thermoset glue 44 is applied to the common seam 40 in a heated molten form. The thermoset glue 44 therefore flows into the weave of the fabric exterior 14 of the plush body 12. Once the thermoset glue 44 cools and cures, the bond between the fabric exterior 14 and the thermoset glue 44 is exceptionally strong due to the seepage of the glue into the weave of the fabric exterior 14.

The thermoset glue 44 is made of a triblock copolymer. The elastomeric shell 30 is made from the same family of materials. Accordingly, the elastomeric material 30 readily bonds with the thermoset glue 44. Furthermore, since the thermoset glue 44 is applied in a heated molten form, the thermoset glue 44 momentarily melts the elastomeric shell 30 it contacts, thereby creating a direct heat bond between the elastomeric shell 30 and the thermoset glue 44.

The thermoset glue 44 is made primarily from triblock copolymers mixed with resin and a plasticizer. The thermoset glue 44, therefore, is highly flexible and exhibits a resistance to tearing comparable to that of the elastomeric shell 30. The result is that the common seam 40 is strongly bonded to both the elastomeric shell 30 and the plush body 12. The thermoset glue 44 also bends and twists as the elastomeric shell 30 is stretched, without pulling away from either the elastomeric shell 30 or the plush body 12.

Referring to FIG. 4, an alternate embodiment of a segment of a common seam 40 is shown. In this segment of a common seam 40, a layer of the elastomeric shell 30 again overlaps the fabric exterior 14 of the plush body 12. No secondary adhesive is used between the elastomeric shell 30 and the fabric exterior 14. Rather, the elastomeric shell 30 is brought into contact with the fabric exterior 14. Energy is then applied to the common seam 40 in the form of heat energy, ultrasound energy or microwave energy. The energy is used to momentarily melt the elastomeric shell 30 in contact with the fabric exterior 14. As the melting energy is present, the fabric exterior 14 is biased against the elastomeric shell 30. The result is that the elastomeric shell 30 melts into the fibers of the fabric exterior 14. Once the melting energy is removed, the elastomeric shell 30 cures and becomes interlocked within the weave of the fabric exterior 14. The result is a bond along the common seam 40 that will not separate as the elastomeric shell 30 is stretched.

Referring to FIG. 5, another alternate embodiment of a segment of a common seam 40 is shown. In this segment of a common seam 40, a fabric reinforcement patch 50 is heat bonded to the elastomeric shell 30. This can be done in the mold as the elastomeric shell 30 is being formed. The fabric reinforcement patch 50 is made from a strong fabric material, such as canvas, denim or the like.

In general, when elastomeric gel material is sewn, the threads used in the sewing tend to cut through the elastomeric gel material. This effect is exasperated by the stretching of the elastomeric gel material along a seam. By bonding the fabric reinforcement patch 50 to the elastomeric shell 30, the fabric reinforcement patch 50 acts as a stop that prevents the sewing thread 52 from cutting through the elastomeric shell 30. The sewing thread 52 mechanically connects the reinforcement patch 50 to the material of the underlying plush body 12, thereby attaching the elastomeric shell 30 to the plush body 12.

In the illustrated embodiment, it is the head section of a plush body that is being covered with an elastomeric shell. Such a configuration is merely exemplary. The elastomeric shell can be a detailed molded hand that is placed onto the arm of a plush body, or a detailed molded saddle that is placed onto the back of a plush toy horse. The exterior shape of the molded elastomeric shell is a matter of design choice. What is important is that an elastomeric shell envelops a segment of a plush toy and conforms to the shape of the plush segment being enveloped, therein providing external details to the plash segment being enveloped.

The embodiments of the present invention illustrate a new toy figure construction. The toy figure has external portions that are made of traditional plush construction and other portions that are covered in a shell of elastomeric gel material. The toy figure, therefore, will have external portions that vary greatly in tactile characteristics.

It will be understood that the embodiments illustrated are merely exemplary and that a person skilled in the art can make alternate embodiments without departing from the principals of the invention. The toy figure can take any shape. It can be a person, an animal or an inanimate object. The shape of the toy figure is a matter of design choice. What is important is that elastomeric material and fabric material are both used to create the toy figure. Although the elastomeric shell is manufactured separately from the plush body, the elastomeric shell and the fabric material are joined together along common seams and integrate to form a toy figure with unique tactile features. Consequently, variations, modifications and alternate embodiments of the illustrated embodiments are intended to be covered by the scope of the claims as defined below.