Title:
Nestable containers with bending covers for improved storage
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
In some embodiments, a storage apparatus is described having a container with an opening and a cover that is reversibly deformable between a storage position and a covering position for covering the opening, the apparatus comprising: a rigid storage container having an opening and being nestable with other containers of identical size and shape, a reversibly deformable detachable cover comprising an elastomeric member that is reversibly deformed upon movement of the cover from the storage position to the covering position, with the elastomeric member providing a seal between the cover and the container when the cover covers the opening in the covering position, wherein the cover has a projected surface area in the storage position that is less than a projected surface area of the cover in the covering position such that the cover is storable inside the container while other containers of identical size and shape are nested in the container.



Inventors:
Herbert, Curtis B. (St. Paul, MN, US)
Ginzburg, Alexander (Mendota Heights, MN, US)
Douglas, Ryan Jordan (St. Paul, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/606777
Publication Date:
06/14/2007
Filing Date:
11/30/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D51/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
VOLZ, ELIZABETH J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CHRISTENSEN, FONDER, DARDI & HERBERT PLLC (Maple Grove, MN, US)
Claims:
1. A storage apparatus having a container with an opening and a detachable cover reversibly deformable between a storage position and a covering position for covering the opening, the apparatus comprising: a rigid storage container nestable with an identical container with the opening shaped for receiving one such identical container and a reversibly deformable cover comprising a periphery to fasten to the container to cover the opening and seal the container, a rigid portion, an elastomeric member, and a bendable portion, with the elastomeric member comprising the periphery of the cover and engaging the container to provide a substantially water tight seal between the cover and the container when the cover covers the opening in the covering position, and with the bendable portion reversibly bending about 180° from the storage position to the covering position of the cover, wherein the cover is completely detachable from the container and has a projected surface area in the storage position that is no more than about 50% of a projected surface area of the cover in the covering position, and wherein the cover is storable in the storage position entirely within the container upon the bending of the bendable portion by the about 180° while another container of identical size and shape is nested in the container.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the opening is approximately rectangular.

3. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the container is free of holes other than the opening.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the bendable portion comprises a living hinge that is not part of the elastomeric member.

5. The apparatus of claim 4 wherein the living hinge is disposed in the rigid portion and the rigid portion comprises two opposing surfaces by a thickness and the thickness is connected to bounded by elastomeric member.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the elastomeric member comprises all of the bendable portion.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the bendable portion comprises a living hinge and a portion of the elastomeric member that at least partially overlays the living hinge.

8. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the elastomeric member comprises an undercut that mates to the container to seal the container.

9. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein at least a portion of the elastomeric member is overmolded onto at least a portion of the rigid member.

10. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the rigid member and a second rigid member are at least partially joined by the bendable portion.

11. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the first rigid member comprises a flange that is overmolded by the elastomeric member.

12. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the cover further comprises a fastener for fastening the lid to itself in the storage position.

13. The apparatus of claim 1 made by a process comprising overmolding the elastomeric member onto the rigid portion.

14. A method of storing the storage apparatus of claim 1 comprising bending the bendable portion of the cover about 180° into the storage position and placing the cover entirely within the container.

15. The method of claim 14 further comprising nesting the container with an essentially identical second container.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Pat. Ser. No. 60/746,171, filed Dec. 1, 2005, which is hereby incorporated by reference herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The technical field is related to nestable containers having a cover.

BACKGROUND

Food storage containers are popularly used to store food that is left over after a meal. The food is packed into the storage container, sealed, and placed into a refrigerator. Such food containers may be reusable and made of plastic and have a lid.

SUMMARY

Many consumers own a variety of types of reusable food containers. Each type has its own lid. As a result, there is often a need to search through a variety of lids and containers to identify ones that match. The searching process is often inconvenient and frustrating. One solution to this problem is to store the containers with the covers that fit them; as described herein, covers may be made that are placed inside the containers while they are nested—thus the covers and containers are not separated and are easily located. In certain embodiments, covers may be bent into a shape small enough to fit into the containers, e.g., by using a bendable material to make the covers, or to join unbendable halves of the covers by a bendable joint, e.g., a hinge or a flexible material that can be reversibly bent to fold the cover in half for storage and unbent for use as a cover.

Bendable covers may advantageously be made with an elastomeric member that provides a seal to a container when the container is covered and also bend when the cover is bent. For example, a hinged, rigid member may be surrounded by an elastomeric material that bends when the hinge is folded, and returns to its original shape when the hinge is unfolded. In this example, the elastomeric material may have built-in sealing features to seal the cover to the container; these features may be deformed when the hinge is bent, but useable when the hinge is unbent.

Some embodiments have fasteners on the covers to help keep the covers folded into a compact shape. Users fold these covers and then engage a fastener that keeps the cover closed, in case the cover has some bias making it tend to spring open.

Some embodiments include making and using a storage device comprising a reusable, nestable container and a reusable, detachable cover for covering the container, with the detachable cover comprising a reversible fastener and a first portion joined to a second portion by a reversibly bendable joint, wherein the first portion is reversibly fastenable to the second portion by the fastener when the bendable joint is bent and the cover is detached from the container.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1A is a perspective view of a container covered with a foldable lid;

FIG. 1B is a perspective view of the lid of FIG. 1A folded into a storage position and rotated for seating in the container of FIG. 1A;

FIG. 1C is an elevated cross-sectional view of two containers and two lids of FIG. 1B folded and stored inside the containers of FIG. 1A while the containers are nested together;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a container covered with a foldable lid;

FIG. 3A is a perspective isometric view of the foldable lid of FIG. 2;

FIG. 3B is a bottom view of the foldable lid of FIG. 3A;

FIG. 3C is a view along the cross-section C-C shown in FIG. 3B;

FIG. 3D is a top view of the foldable lid of FIG. 2, with the lid in a folded, storage position;

FIG. 3E is an elevated side view of the foldable lid of FIG. 3D;

FIG. 4A is a perspective view of an insert that forms a portion of the lid of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4B is a side view of the insert of FIG. 4A taken from the viewpoint of arrow B in FIG. 4A;

FIG. 5A is an isometric perspective view of the container of FIG. 2;

FIG. 5B is a perspective bottom view of the container of FIG. 2;

FIG. 5C is a perspective top view of the container of FIG. 2;

FIG. 6A depicts a top plan view of an alternative embodiment of a foldable cover; and,

FIG. 6B depicts an elevated view of a cross-section taken along B-B of FIG. 6A.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Covers may be made with an elastomeric member with a sealing element that allows deformation of the cover for storage purposes without compromising the cover's sealing properties when the cover is in use. In some embodiments, the elastomeric member is the portion of the lid around its outside edges, referred to as the peripheral portion or periphery. The peripheral portion may thus, for example, be part of a hinge or bendable joint that joints two halves of a lid together; when the lid is folded, part of the peripheral portion bends to accommodate the folding. When the lid is unfolded, the peripheral portion recovers its unbent shape.

Bendable Joints

Some embodiments are containers having lids that can be bent into a storage shape that allows the lids to be stored inside the containers while the containers are nested with each other. This method of storage conveniently keeps the containers and covers together. A cover with a reversibly bendable joint allows the cover to be bent into a different shape by bending the joint. In certain cases the bendable joint may be a hinge, while in other cases, for example, it is merely a flexible, reversibly deformable material that folds without making a crease. The bendable joint joins at least two portions of the cover to each other. The two portions are, in some embodiments, clearly distinct from the joint, as in the case wherein two rigid materials are joined by a reversibly deformable thermoplastic elastomer. In other cases the bendable joint may be a living hinge that is made by creating a relatively thin plastic member that is continuous with the portions that it joins. A nonreversibly bendable joint or material is essentially not restorable to its original state after bending, e.g., a piece of plastic that stretches without returning to its original shape.

A cover's reversibly bendable joint may be, for example, a hinge or a living hinge. A living hinge is typically formed by creating a thin portion of a plastic in a relatively thicker plastic member. The living hinge allows for repeated folding and unfolding. Polypropylene and certain other engineering plastics are particularly suited to the formation of living hinges. Living hinges are known to artisans in these fields of endeavor. Various hinges may be used, including those referred to as butt, door, strap, concealed, take-apart & two-pin hinges. Other hinge types are, for example: ball-and-socket, and mortise-and-tenon. Additional hinges are, for example: projection hinge, parliament hinge, tee hinge, and bands & gudgeons.

And a reversibly bendable joint may be made, for example, from at least one piece of a flexible material that joins two other members, or portions of the cover, that are to be pivoted relative to each other. Reversibly bendable joints may be made with materials that are elastomeric, for example, from natural or synthetic rubbers, rubbery materials, and many thermoplastic elastomers. Examples of materials include neoprene, nitrile, polyisoprenes, fluoroelastomers, ethylene/acrylics, silicones, butyl rubbers, SBR, EPDM, VITON, combinations and derivatives thereof, and other materials, e.g., as in the Handbook of Plastics and Elastomers. Liquid silicone rubbers, and silicone rubbers in general, are useful materials that are highly elastic, food-compatible, and suitable in a range of temperatures from freezing to boiling. Other materials that may be suitable, depending upon specific designs and uses, are DYNAFLEX, SANTOPRENE, KRAYTON, ENGAGE, ESTANE, and DOW CORNING SILASTIC. These materials are all readily available from brokers in industries that serve these arts.

Two or more portions of a cover may be joined by an elastic portion that serves as a bendable joint. The portions may be essentially rigid materials or may be other elastic materials. The cover may be removed from the container, folded by bending the bendable joint, and placed into the container, which may then be nested.

Peripheral Portions of Covers

Covers may be made with an elastomeric member comprising a sealing element that allows deformation of the cover and sealing element without compromising the cover's sealing properties when the cover is in use. In some embodiments, the entire cover is made of an elastomeric material. In other embodiments, the elastomeric member is the portion of the lid around its outside edges, referred to as the peripheral portion. The peripheral portion may include a band of material that includes the edges of the cover. The band can range in width from thin to wide e.g., it could be wide and thereby include most of the lid, or it could be thin, covering only the outer edges. In general, elastomers described above for bendable joints may be used for an elastomeric peripheral portion.

In general, an elastomeric material is a flexible, low modulus material capable of expanding and contracting and returning to its original dimensions many times without fatigue. Hardnesses in the range of about 30 Shore A to about 100 Shore A or about 40 Shore A to about 80 Shore A have been found to be most useful for a peripheral portion or a bendable joint because they provide a useful range of flexibility without being too floppy, which is a disadvantage for users.

In some embodiments a peripheral portion of a cover seals to the container, e.g., by gripping a rim of the container. For instance, the peripheral portion may have a wall that extends approximately perpendicularly from the cover and has an undercut that grips the container's rim. The peripheral portion, wall, and undercut are all elastomeric and thereby flexible for bending and retaining their gripping and sealing characteristics when not bent. Alternatively, the peripheral portion may seal by gripping the container with a groove that is received by a tongue on the container. Or the cover may have two approximately parallel and concentric walls on the peripheral portion that define a groove that receives a complementary member on the container. Or the cover may have a rim that projects from the peripheral portion that is received by a groove in the container. Various fasteners for fastening a cover to a container are known; such fastening systems may be incorporated into the cover and/or container, with the cover's part of the fastening system being flexible to deform when bent while returning to its original shape to seal to the container when not bent.

The covers may interact with containers to make a substantial seal so that contents of the containers are substantially isolated within the containers. For instance, the substantial seal may be substantially water tight, meaning that the container will not leak through the seal when half-filled with water and turned on its side. Alternatively, a tighter seal may be used to establish a substantially air-tight seal. Various structures may be incorporated in the covers and containers to accomplish a substantial sealing. Various fasteners and seals may be used to join a cover to a container. Further, the degree of sealing may be controlled and varied, so that some seals are water tight while others merely provide a snug seating arrangement to generally isolate the container contents from the outside environment. For example, flanges, grooves, beads, and various means for establishing a seal between a container and a cover, as known to persons in these arts, may be used. In some embodiments, the cover has a slight undercut that creates a small ridge at the edge of the cover; when forced over the container rim, the ridge provides resistance when the cover is removed.

Reversible Deformation of Covers

Some embodiments herein are directed to reversibly deformable covers that fasten to, and can be positioned between their containers while the containers are nested. The covers are in a first, or covering, position while covering the containers, and are reversibly deformed to a second, or storage, position when stored in the containers, so that the containers may be nested with each other with the container stored therein. The covers may then be restored to the covering position. Reversible deformation thus refers to a change in shape that is reversible, and may be used to refer to the transition from a cover position to a storage position, or vice versa. Covers described herein as having a bendable joint are reversibly deformable covers. A surface area of the reversibly deformable cover may be increased by at least about 25% or 100% when the cover is disposed over an opening compared to the surface area of the cover in a storage position.

A reversibly deformable cover may have a fold, a bendable joint, or corrugations for reversibly deforming the cover, and may further have a detent, or could have a combination thereof. The reversibly deformable covers may include a nondeformable portion, e.g., one or more rigid members. Similarly, methods for using such apparatuses are included, e.g., a method of storing a plurality of storage containers, the method comprising nesting the plurality of containers with each other with a reversibly deformable cover disposed between the plurality of containers, wherein the plurality of containers each comprise an opening of the same dimension and the reversibly deformable cover may be used to cover the opening.

Fasteners for Fastening the Cover to Itself

In some embodiments, the cover has a fastener that, when fastened, prevents movement of the cover from the storage position to the covering position. The cover may include a part of, or the entirety of, the fastener, which may have one or more members. In one embodiment, a fastener has a first and a second member that fasten to each other; these may be placed on opposite sides of a cover, e.g., on opposite sides of a bendable joint. A user bends the cover to fasten the fastener members to each other to place the cover in a storage position, and then stores the cover. In some embodiments, the first and second members are a male and a female member, e.g., a cavity and a tenon, a post and an invagination, two members of a snap, a tongue and a groove, or a male member that snap-fits into a female member. In other embodiments, the fist member and the second member both project outwardly from the cover and fasten to each other by a friction fit, an interference, or by use of interacting ridges or tabs. Embodiments include fasteners wherein a knob, strap, or pin fastens to a loop or circle, complementary hook-and-loop materials, snaps, rod-and-slot, and rod-and-clip. An embodiment is a clip that clips the cover in the storage position. An embodiment is a loop disposed on one end of the cover and a T-shaped post on the other end of the cover, so that the post may be pushed through the loop to fasten the ends of the cover to each other.

Some embodiments are a container that is dimensioned to provide contact with a cover that is in a folded, storage position such that the interior walls of the container keep the cover closed in the storage position. The contact may be provided by frictional forces, for instance, by sizing the interior of the container so that the walls contact the cover when the cover is disposed inside the container. The contact may, alternatively, be provided by placing a rib or other structure on the container interior so that the cover must be forced past the rib, which is deep enough into the container to prevent the cover from opening.

Latches

In some embodiments, latching mechanisms may be employed, e.g., to enhance a seal between a cover and a container, with or without the involvement of a gasket. For example, see WO 2004/035411 and U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,793,096, 5,775,483, and U.S. Pat. Pub. Nos. 20040099669 and 20030015534, which are hereby incorporated by reference herein. A plurality of latches may be used, e.g., between one and four. For example, plastic latches that pivot between a storage position for sealing the container and an open position for removing a cover from the container may be used.

And, for example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,793,096 explains how latches using locking wings are integrally formed at edges of the lid, so that the wings can be pivoted upward and downward. Flange portions are formed on upper end outer surfaces of sidewalls of the case, so that the locking wings are engaged with the flange portions to be maintained in a locked state. An engaging groove is defined on a lower surface of each flange portion. Each locking wing has an elastic engaging part which is formed to be flexed and cover the lower surface of the flange portion when the corresponding locking wing is pivoted downward, and engaging protuberances which are horizontally formed on an upper surface of the elastic engaging part to be engaged with the engaging groove of the flange portion while elastically deforming the elastic engaging part.

Alternatively, a combination of latch(es) and living hinges may be used to affix a cover to a container, e.g., a cover affixed to a container by a living hinge with latch(es) to provide additional sealing action.

Covers Disposed Inside a Container

A cover may be prepared that is folded in a storage position so that it has a relatively small projected area relative to its unfolded state. Thus a user may fold a cover, dispose it in or under a container, and nest the container with other containers of a similar or substantially identical size and shape. Then the cover may be unfolded and used as a lid for the container. Or, for example, a cover may be prepared that is collapsed in a storage position so that it occupies a relatively small volume relative to its uncollapsed state. Thus a user may expand the cover, dispose it in or under a container, and nest the container with other containers of a similar or substantially identical size and shape. Then the cover may be expanded and used as a lid for the container.

A cover that is stored between nested containers may be designed to occupy a specified height. The height of a container would be the vertical distance between a cover and an opposing bottom of the container. The height of a cover would be measured parallel to the height of the container when the cover is disposed inside the container. Thus a cover may be made so that, when folded and placed approximately parallel to the bottom of the container, it has a height that is less than about 50%, about 40%, about 33%, about 20%, or less than about 10% of the container's height; a person of ordinary skill in these arts will appreciate that all ranges and values from more than 0% to less than about 50% are intended although they are not explicitly set forth. The terms length, width, and height may be used to refer to certain dimensions of the covers and containers. Thus the height of a cover may be compared to the depth (or “height”) of a container.

One measure of the change in the state of a cover between two positions is the change in surface area. A measurement of a surface area is accomplished by adding up the entire area of the surface, and is not to be confused with the projected surface area of an object. For example, a rigid cover that is folded in half has a projected surface area in the folded state that is about half of the cover's projected surface area in the unfolded state. A projected surface area is the projection of an object onto a two-dimensional surface. For example, a corrugated cover has substantially no change in its surface area as the corrugations are flattened, but the projected surface area is changed. An embodiment is a storage device having a cover and a container comprising an opening, with the cover being securable over the opening and comprising a reversibly deformable portion having a surface area or a projected surface area that is increased by at least about 15%, e.g., by at least about 25%, by at least about 50%, or by at least about 100%, when the cover is secured over the opening.

Covers may be made to have a surface area or projected surface area that is increased when placed over an opening of a container. The increase of the surface area or projected surface area may be, for example, at least about 5%, e.g., at least about 15%, at least about 25%, at least about 50%, and at least about 100%. Or covers may have a range of change in projected surface area that ranges from about 25% to about 200% or any range or value therebetween, e.g., about 50% or from about 50% to about 200%. Ranges of increased surface area may be, e.g., 5%-1000%, and all ranges therebetween, e.g., 5%-500%, and 15%-350%; persons of ordinary skill in these arts will immediately appreciate that all values and ranges between the explicitly stated ranges are contemplated. Certain embodiments include containers with a volume in the range between about 1 ounce and about 512 ounces, and covers or containers made of plastic that is at least about one sixteenth of an inch thick.

Embodiments of covers include those having a surface area of any size suitable for the intended container. For example, the cover, when placed in a position to cover an opening, may have a surface area that is a range of about 1 to about 1,000 square inches, including all ranges therewithin, e.g., about 4 to about 64 square inches, about 9 to about 36 square inches, and about 9 to about 36 square inches; persons of ordinary skill in these arts will immediately appreciate that all values and ranges between the explicitly stated ranges are contemplated and that the stated ranges do not exclude embodiments having larger-sized covers.

Certain embodiments are directed to nestable containers having reversibly deformable covers that can fit within a volume that is defined by a specified portion of the interior space of the container. A container's interior space is all the space within its interior walls when the container is empty and resting on its bottom surface: for example, an empty cylinder defines a cylindrical interior space, even if the cylinder has holes in it. The bottom 50% of that interior space is defined by pouring an imaginary fluid into the interior space and observing the shape that the fluid assumes. The bottom surface is usually readily known to the artisan when considering the shape and intended use of the container, is usually opposing the opening covered by a lid of the container, and is usually the surface that supports the container when the container is filled to its maximum capacity without its lid on.

In some embodiments, a volume is specified by imagining that fluid is literally put into the container when the container is on a level surface without its lid in place. The water flows into the interior space of the container and assumes its shape. In such embodiments, the volume is defined by the effect that would be produced by literally putting water into the container, so that containers that do not hold water are excluded. So a container with a hole in its bottom would not be fillable with water.

It is useful to define the interior space of a container, for instance, when describing covers that fit inside the container. Certain embodiments are directed to a cover for a container that fits in (would be contained by) a volume defined by the bottom about 1%-about 50% of the interior space of a container or defined by filling a container about 1%-about 50% full of water; artisans will understand that all ranges and values within these explicitly stated bounds are contemplated. Thus some covers will rest completely on a bottom of a container when placed inside, while others can stay within the volume defined by, e.g., 50% full of water, even if they have portions resting on the walls of the container.

In some embodiments, covers can be bent to accomplish the change in area between the covering position and the storage position. For instance, as in FIG. 1, the cover is bent about 180°. In some embodiments, the bend is gradual, as in FIG. 3E, which depicts a continuously arcuate shape. This shape minimizes strain effects on the cover. In other embodiments, the bend is relatively more acute, as with a living hinge. Alternatively, the cover could be made with a plurality of bending portions that each allow for 180° of bend, or less, e.g., 45° to about 180°, e.g., about 90°.

Examples of Particular Types of Containers

Various types of containers may be used, e.g., as in U.S. Pat. No. 7,124,891 or patent application Ser. No. 10/974,553, filed Oct. 27, 2004, Ser. No. 11/083,870 filed Mar. 18, 20005, and Ser. No. 11/083,871 filed Mar. 18, 2005, each of which are hereby incorporated by reference herein to the extent they do not contradict the explicit disclosure of this patent application.

Some embodiments are food storage containers for home use, e.g., for meal leftovers. Although food storage containers for home use have a multiplicity of uses that are not limited to storage of food or use at a home, such containers are made to comply with certain requirements for food safety. Some embodiments are directed to using food-grade materials, microwaveable materials, materials resistant to deformation in the conditions typically encountered in automatic dishwashers (top shelf and/or bottom shelf), freezable materials, materials for use in a household oven, and/or materials that do not give off harmful substances in normal use. Polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, silicone, and various thermoplastic elastomers satisfy these requirements, e.g., SANTOPRENE.

Moreover, food storage containers for home use have limited dimensions so that a plurality of them may be accommodated within a home storage space, e.g., a refrigerator or pantry. Sizes and suitable ranges of sizes may be described volumetrically in terms of the number of ounces of water that they hold: from about one ounce to about 512 ounces, and every size therebetween, every range of sizes therebetween, and ranges from any size therebetween to almost zero. Such sizes therefore include, for example: about one half-pint, about one pint, about one quart, about two quarts, and about one gallon. Such ranges therefore include, for example, from about one quarter pint to about one gallon or to about two quarts. Such ranges therefore include, for example about 5 ounces to about 20 ounces.

Various features may be incorporated into containers for food uses. For example, a vent for microwaving may be present on a cover or a container to allow gas from the container interior to escape after being heated. And, for example, indicia for a day of the week may be added, e.g., as semispherical buttons or bulges on a cover that may be depressed to indicate a day of the week, or other date.

Other embodiments are directed to containers for general purpose storage. While food grade plastics may advantageously be used to provide for many potential uses, other materials may be used, e.g., non food-grade engineering plastics, or non-plastics. Such containers may be provide in a range of sizes, e.g., from 8 ounces to 50 gallons, or even more. A category of general purpose containers familiar to retail shoppers are in the range of 10-30 gallons, e.g., about 1 or 2 feet on a side, stackable when covered, with built-in covers and snap-on lids. Containers may have detachable covers that are storable on the sides or bottom of the containers, as described herein, or may have detachable covers that are stored inside the containers while the containers are nested with each other. The association between the covers and the containers advantageously minimizes logistical challenges for sellers that must shelve both the containers and covers. For example, large retailers such as KMART, WAL-MART, and TARGET carry general purpose storage containers that are shelved in proximity to their covers. The user must find a suitable cover and match it to the container, and the retailer must stock the cover and the container separately on the shelves.

Examples of containers include containers used for general purpose storage. Some containers are plastic, while others are, e.g., metal, steel, glass, tempered glass, PYREX-style glass, wood, wood-plastic composites. Indeed, the use of covers disposable between nesting containers is applicable to wide varieties of containers. Reversible expandable covers may be plastic or other materials, e.g., metal, steel, glass, tempered glass, PYREX-style glass, wood, wood-plastic composites. General purpose storage containers may be, for example, sealing, non-sealing, or water-tight-sealing. They may be equipped with the various features described herein, e.g., gaskets, latches, handles (inset into the container walls or projecting from the walls), vents, date indicia, detents, elastomeric portions.

Industrial containers are also contemplated. Many containers are known for various shipping, storage, warehousing, picking, and packing purposes. The use of foldable or otherwise reversibly expandable covers is generally applicable to containers in a wide variety of circumstances. The container/cover combinations may be sold with or without other contents. Various items may be placed in the containers, including food (for human or pet consumption), drink, crafts, office supplies, and industrial goods.

In some embodiments, the containers have no holes when the cover is in the covering position. Such containers are useful for holding fluids or sealing their contents away from the outside. In contrast, containers may be provided with one or more holes that allow for fluid flow or communication with the outside, e.g., produce crates designed to allow free air and fluid flow with the containers' contents. A hole that is sealed is not a hole as that term is used herein for claims purposes.

Displays

In one embodiment, a retail display unit is provided with a plurality of nested or nestable containers that have a cover stored inside and/or under each container and/or between containers. In use, for example, a consumer chooses a container, removes the container from the shelf or other display unit, and finds the cover inside or otherwise attached to the container. The consumer may take the container from a nested stack of containers. Or, for example, a retailer may place a set of nested containers that each have a cover associated with the container on a support surface of a display unit, e.g., a shelf, rack, or table for retail display, with the cover-container association being a cover placed under each container, a cover placed inside each unit, or at least some of the covers being placed between the containers while they are nested.

In another embodiment, a storage area is used to store a plurality of nested or nestable containers that have a cover stored inside and/or under each container and/or between containers. In use, for example, a user chooses a container, removes the container from the storage area, and finds the cover inside or otherwise attached to the container. The user may take the container from a nested stack of containers. Or, for example, a user may place a set of nested containers that each have a cover associated with the container on a storage unit, e.g., a shelf, rack, or table for storage, with the cover-container association being a cover placed under each container, a cover placed inside each unit, or at least some of the covers being placed between the containers while they are nested. For example, warehousing operations, order fulfillment centers, and other business storage applications will benefit from the easy association of the lids and containers. The advantages of such a process are particularly realized when a variety of containers and covers are used.

Containers and Materials

Container is a term that includes a container that fully encloses a space, or partially encloses a space. Certain embodiments involve the use of containers that have a shape that encloses a space on all sides except for an opening that is to be covered by a cover. A cover refers to a structure or device designed to close off the opening of a container and prevent loss of its contents. Covers may involve various means of securing the cover to the container, e.g., fasteners, friction fit, threads, ribs, force-fit, and other means known to artisans in these fields. The term cover or covering generally refers to a closure for the largest opening in a container. Containers, besides having an opening for the primary cover, may further have other openings, including sealable openings. An example of a sealable opening is an opening in the container intended to be sealed with a cap or bung. For example, certain container embodiments may be equipped with sealable microwave vents. An example of a non-sealable opening is a hole in a container that is not intended to be sealed, so as to provide drainage and/or ventilation of the crate contents, e.g., holes in a produce crate.

Containers, covers, and sections of the containers may be assembled from materials that are used for conventional containers. Such materials include, for example, woods, plastics, ceramics, cloths, textiles, fabrics, weaves, and metals. Plastics include, for example, polyethylene, polycarbonate, polyvinylchloride, high density polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polytetrafluoroethylene, polyurethane, silicones, and various elastomers. Containers for food storage should be made of food grade materials that do not contaminate food with undesirable substances.

In some embodiments, the cover and the nestable container are made of a class of material(s) that consist essentially of polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer, or a combination thereof. Alternatively, such a container may be made of at least about 50%, 70%, 80%, 90%, or 95% w/w of particular materials, e.g., polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer, or a combination thereof. Materials made from a blend of plastic and wood may be used. One reason for using these materials in the weight or combination specified is to make a reusable container.

The containers and covers may be reusable. Reusable refers to a structure that allows a user to use a container to hold items a first time, to place empty containers into a storage position, and to again use the container to store an item. A variety of single-use food containers are known that are intended to be used once, and thrown away. Makers and users of these products can distinguish between reusable and disposable containers. Moreover, some embodiments are a reusable container and/or a lid made of materials that do not include paper, or have less than 50%, 75%, or 90% paper by weight. The term paper is intended to include, for example, materials processed to include wood or plant portions.

Containers include rigid containers. A rigid container essentially maintains its shape when items are placed within it; for example, a bucket, a carton, a milk jug, or a box. A rigid container does not typically to tend to conform its shape to accommodate the items placed within it. A rigid container may have an elastic portion but still retain its classification as a rigid container because the elastic member does not typically conform to the items within it, even though the elastic member may sometimes bend or be displaced.

Container Sets

Sets of containers having lids reversibly deformable between a covering position and a storage position may be assembled. The covers may be disposed between the containers while the containers are nested with each other. The number of containers in such a set may be, e.g., at least 2, at least 3, at least 4, or at least 5. Or, for example, the number of such containers may be between 2 and 10, or between, e.g., 3 and 8. The set may have one cover per container. Alternatively, the number of covers may be more or less than the number of containers, e.g., as when providing a covers that fits many sizes of containers. The containers may be similar to each other in size and shape, e.g., essentially identical, or essentially identical for nesting purposes. The containers may all have openings that are essentially the same size, e.g., having the same dimensions, e.g., length, width, or diameter. Alternatively, variously sized containers may be used in the set. The covers may be essentially identical to each other, e.g., having essentially the same dimensions, e.g., length, width, or diameter, or may be variously sized. Sets of nested containers may be packaged with the containers in a nested position. Many types of packaging may be used, e.g., cardboard or shrink-wrap.

In certain embodiments, a storage apparatus may have a plurality of containers and covers, e.g., two, three, four, five, six, or between 3 and 20, or more. The covers and containers may be joined by hinges. The containers may have openings defined by sides joined to a base. The containers may have a rim that defines the opening in the container.

FIG. 1A depicts a storage device 100 having a container 102 and a cover 104 in a covering position 108. Cover edges 112 mate with container rim 114. Cover 104 has a first portion 116 and second portion 118 joined by bendable member 110. FIG. 1B depicts cover 104 disposed in storage position 106 by bending of bendable member 110. The cover fits within container 102. FIG. 1C is a cross section of the container of FIGS. 1A and 1B, and shows how cover 104 in storage position 106 can be placed in container 102 while it is nested with identical containers. Cover 104, in position 106, takes up less than about 20% of the volume of container 104. A user may fold cover 104 into position 106, rotate it about 90 degrees in the plane parallel to the portions 116, 118, and place cover 104 into container 102. Container 102 may then be nested with other containers with cover 102 disposed between the containers.

FIG. 2 depicts storage device 200 having container 202 and a cover 204 in a covering position 208. And FIGS. 3A-3E depict cover 204, which has first portion 216 and second portion 218 and has peripheral portion 220 with peripheral outer wall 222 with undercut 224 (not shown in FIG. 2, see FIG. 3C). A peripheral portion of a lid refers to a portion of a lid that is on the outer edges of the lid and may include the portion of the lid that contacts the container to achieve a seal or seat. Portions 216, 218 are mated to peripheral portion 220 and portions 217, 219, which are connected to bendable member 210, which, at its ends, forms part of peripheral portion 220. Outer wall 222 is thin at the bendable joint 210 and relatively thicker at the other parts of peripheral portion 220. Portions 216, 218 have ridges 226, 228 that define an inset in each portion 216, 218. A fastener having female part 230 and male part 232 is attached to the lid and is continuous with the peripheral portion 220. Bottom side 205 of cover 204 has ridges 226′, 228′ disposed around portions 216, 218. FIG. 3B shows that, on bottom side 205, peripheral portion 220, portions 217, 219, and bendable member 210 all form a continuous, smooth surface with each other, with peripheral outer wall 222 defining its outer circumference.

Portions 216, 218 are, in some embodiments, rigid, and may be inserts in a molding process, with the other portions of the cover being molded/overmolded around the inserts. FIGS. 4A-4B show insert 218, which has flange 240 with holes 242 Peripheral portion 220 and bendable portion 210 are, in some embodiments, made of an elastomeric material such as a silicone or a thermoplastic elastomer. Exemplary hardnesses for bendable portion 210 are about 30 to about 100 Shore A hardness, including about 50 to about 75 for some embodiments.

Cover 204 may be folded and placed in container 202 while nested with identical containers as described with respect to FIG. 1. FIGS. 3D and 3E show cover 204 in a folded, storage position. In use, bendable member 210 is folded to allow portions 216, 218 to be brought close to each other and fastened together by members 230, 232. Cover 204 is placed within container 202, which may then be nested with other containers of the same dimensions as container 202.

Container 202, shown in detail in FIGS. 5A-5C, has long sides 250 and short sides 252 that are joined to base 254 to define interior space 256. Rim 258 is approximately perpendicular to the sides and has peripheral wall 260 that projects perpendicularly therefrom so that wall 260 is approximately parallel to the sides. The walls are tilted a few degrees from the vertical to allow for nesting of the container with identically sized containers, and meet the base with a curved portion. The container is sized to allow storage of cover 204 when it is folded into the storage position. To seal the container, cover 204 is unfolded and placed on container 202, and a user presses undercut 224 over rim 258 and wall 260. Undercut engages 224 engages the wall to provide a seal.

FIGS. 6A and 6B depict cover 300 having portions 316, 318 joined by a hinge 310, with peripheral portion 320 surrounding the portions 316, 318. Peripheral portion 320 has wall 322 with undercut 324. In use, the cover 300 operates as does cover 204, with hinge 310 bending while the portion of peripheral portion 320 near hinge 310 reversibly deforms to accommodate folding of the hinge. Portions 316, 318 are, in some embodiments, rigid, with the other portions of the cover being made of an elastomeric or flexible material such as a silicone or a thermoplastic elastomer molded/overmolded around the inserts. Peripheral portion 320 may be, for example, a silicone or thermoplastic elastomer with a hardness of about 20 to about 100 Shore A hardness, including about 40 to about 75 for some embodiments. The material used to form peripheral member 320 may optionally be extended to cover the hinge 320 on one or both sides (top and/or bottom).

Exemplary Embodiments

Exemplary embodiments include a storage apparatus having a container with an opening and a cover that is reversibly deformable between a storage position and a covering position for covering the opening, the apparatus comprising: a rigid storage container having an opening and being nestable with other containers of identical size and shape, a reversibly deformable detachable cover comprising an elastomeric member that is reversibly deformed upon movement of the cover from the storage position to the covering position, with the elastomeric member providing a seal between the cover and the container when the cover covers the opening in the covering position, wherein the cover has a projected surface area in the storage position that is less than a projected surface area of the cover in the covering position such that the cover is storable inside the container while other containers of identical size and shape are nested in the container. The cover may further comprise a bendable portion for moving the cover between the storage position and the covering position, wherein the elastomeric member is deformed as the hinge is moved. The bendable portion may comprise a hinge or a flexible material. A projected surface area of the reversibly deformable cover may be increased by at least about 25% when the cover is disposed over the opening compared to the projected surface area of the cover in the storage position. A seal may b established between the elastomeric member and a rim of the container that defines the opening. The elastomeric member may comprise an undercut that mates to the rim. The cover may comprise a rigid member connected to the elastomeric member. The cover may further comprise a first rigid member and a second rigid member that are each connected to the elastomeric member. The first rigid member and the second rigid member may be joined by a bendable portion. The bendable portion and the elastomeric member may form a molded part. The first rigid member and the second rigid member may each comprise a flange that is overmolded by the molded part. The elastomeric member may further comprise a fastener for fastening the lid to itself in the storage position. Methods include folding the cover of embodiment 1 into the storage position and placing the cover into a container already described. The method may comprise nesting a second container into the container, wherein the second container is essentially identical to the container. The elastomeric member may further comprise a fastener for fastening the lid to itself in the storage position, with the method further comprising engaging the fastener to fasten the cover to itself.

Various embodiments have been set forth herein and are not intended to limit the scope and spirit of the invention. Headings have been provided herein for the general convenience of the reader but are not intended to limit the disclosure to the topic of the heading. Various features have been disclosed in a variety of embodiments; these features are intended to be mixed-and-matched freely to the extent that they are operable in combination with each other.





 
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