Title:
Containers and interlocking container assemblies
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A container assembly and method for forming the same with a first polymeric container and a second polymeric container. The first polymeric container includes a first body portion and a first rim. The first container forms a first and a second slot therethrough. The first rim has a first and a second generally horizontal area. The second polymeric container includes a second body portion and a second rim. The second container forms a third and a fourth slot therethrough. The second rim has a third and a fourth generally horizontal area. The first container and the second container are adapted to be attachable to each other by pressing the first and second rims together such that the generally horizontal areas of the first container insert into the slots of the second container, and the generally horizontal areas of the second container insert into the slots of the first container.



Inventors:
Gartz, Mark R. (Mt. Prospect, IL, US)
Kirkland, Bernard H. (Lindenhurst, IL, US)
Smith, Jonathan C. (Gurnee, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/333739
Publication Date:
07/19/2007
Filing Date:
01/17/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D6/28
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
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20060201952Feeding dishes for childrenSeptember, 2006Hakim
20070007163Container and a lock thereforJanuary, 2007Schlattl et al.
20020179600Collapsible storage boxDecember, 2002King
20070102432Condiment Holding DeviceMay, 2007Keller Jr.
20100038366Locking bar anti-theft device for containerFebruary, 2010Yin et al.
20090173761DOG LEASH CONTAINERJuly, 2009Berry
20040031803Method of forming a double container and related assemblyFebruary, 2004Matsui et al.
20040118842Inner container for transporting lysineJune, 2004Minke et al.
20020175166Panel bin apparatusNovember, 2002Robinson et al.



Primary Examiner:
CASTELLANO, STEPHEN J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CLOSURE SYSTEMS INTERNATIONAL (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A container assembly comprising: a first polymeric container including a first continuous body portion and a first rim, the first rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the first body portion, the first rim having a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion, the first upwardly protruding slot portion forming a first slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a second slot therethrough, the first rim having a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion, the first rim having a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion; and a second polymeric container including a second continuous body portion and a second rim, the second rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the second body portion, the second rim having a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion, the third upwardly protruding slot portion forming a third slot therethrough, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forming a fourth slot therethrough, the second rim having a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the third upwardly protruding slot portion, the second rim having a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion, wherein the first container and the second container are adapted to be releasably attachable to each other by pressing the first and second rims together such that the first generally horizontal area of the first container inserting into the third slot of the second container, the second generally horizontal area of the first container inserting into the fourth slot of the second container, the third generally horizontal area of the second container inserting into the first slot of the first container, and the fourth generally horizontal area of the second container inserting into the second slot of the first container.

2. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first and the second containers comprise a polymeric material.

3. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first and the second containers comprise a polymeric foam.

4. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first container is generally identical to the second container.

5. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first and second container are thermoformed.

6. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first upwardly protruding slot portion further forms a fifth slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a sixth slot therethrough, the third upwardly protruding slot portion forming a seventh slot therethrough, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forming an eighth slot therethrough, and wherein the first generally horizontal area of the first container further inserts into the seventh slot of the second container, the second generally horizontal area of the first container further inserting into the eighth slot of the second container, the third generally horizontal area of the second container further inserting into the fifth slot of the first container, and the fourth generally horizontal area of the second container further inserting into the sixth slot of the first container.

7. The container assembly of claim 6 wherein the first container is generally identical to the second container.

8. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first and second containers are plates.

9. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first container is a bowl and the second container is a plate.

10. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first container is shaped substantially the same as the second container.

11. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first container is a bowl and the second container is a bowl.

12. The container assembly of claim 1 wherein the first rim is identical to the second rim.

13. A method of forming a polymeric container assembly, the method of comprising the acts of: providing a first polymeric container that includes a first continuous body portion and a first rim having a first surface, the first rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the first body portion, the first rim having a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion, the first upwardly protruding slot portion forming a first slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a second slot therethrough, the first rim having a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion, the first rim having a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion; providing a second polymeric container that includes a second continuous body portion and a second rim having a second surface, the second rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the second body portion, the second rim having a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion, the third upwardly protruding slot portion forming a third slot therethrough, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forming a fourth slot therethrough, the second rim having a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the third upwardly protruding slot portion, the second rim having a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion; flipping one of the first container and the second container such that the first container and second container are generally aligned and the first rim and the second rim are adjacent to each other; rotating one of the first container and the second container ninety degrees such that the first upwardly protruding slot portion of the first container generally aligns with the third generally horizontal area, the second upwardly protruding slot portion generally aligning with the fourth generally horizontal area, the third upwardly protruding slot portion aligning with the first generally horizontal area, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion aligning with the second generally horizontal area; pressing the first and second rims together; and inserting the third generally horizontal area into the first slot, the fourth generally horizontal area into the second slot, the first generally horizontal area into the third slot, and the second generally horizontal area into the fourth slot.

14. The method of claim 13 further including placing a food article on at least one of the first container and the second container before pressing the first and second rims together.

15. The method of claim 13 wherein at least one of the first and second containers comprises polymeric foam.

16. The method of claim 13 wherein the first container is generally identical to the second container.

17. The method of claim 13 wherein the first rim is generally identical to the second rim.

18. A method of forming a polymeric container assembly, the method of comprising the acts of: providing a first polymeric container that includes a first continuous body portion and a first rim having a first surface, the first rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the first body portion, the first rim having a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion, the first upwardly protruding slot portion forming a first slot and a second slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a third slot and a fourth slot therethrough, the first rim having a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion, the first rim having a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion; providing a second polymeric container that includes a second continuous body portion and a second rim having a second surface, the second rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the second body portion, the second rim having a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion, the third upwardly protruding slot portion forming a fifth slot and a sixth slot therethrough, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forming a seventh slot and an eighth slot therethrough, the second rim having a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the third upwardly protruding slot portion, the second rim having a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion; flipping one of the first container and the second container such that the first container and second container are generally aligned and the first rim and the second rim are adjacent to each other; rotating one of the first container and the second container ninety degrees such that the first upwardly protruding slot portion of the first container generally aligns with the third generally horizontal area, the second upwardly protruding slot portion generally aligning with the fourth generally horizontal area, the third upwardly protruding slot portion aligning with the first generally horizontal area, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion aligning with the second generally horizontal area; pressing the first and second rims together; and inserting the third generally horizontal area into the first slot and the second slot, the fourth generally horizontal area into the third slot and the fourth slot, the first generally horizontal area into the fifth slot and the sixth slot, and the second generally horizontal area into the seventh slot and the eighth slot.

19. The method of claim 18 further including placing a food article on at least one of the first container and the second container before pressing the first and second rims together.

20. The method of claim 18 wherein at least one of the first and second containers comprises polymeric foam.

21. The method of claim 18 wherein the first container is generally identical to the second container.

22. The method of claim 18 wherein the first rim is generally identical to the second rim.

23. A first polymeric container for use in a container assembly the first polymeric container comprising: a continuous body portion; and a rim, the rim encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion, the rim having a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion, the first upwardly protruding slot portion forming a first slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a second slot therethrough, the rim having a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion, the rim having a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion, wherein the first polymeric container is adapted to be releasably attachable to a second container having at least a second rim having a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion, the third upwardly protruding slot portion forming a third slot therethrough, the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forming a fourth slot therethrough.

24. The container of claim 23 wherein the container comprises polymeric foam.

25. The container of claim 23 wherein the first container is a plate.

26. The container of claim 23 wherein the first upwardly protruding slot portion further forms a fifth slot therethrough, the second upwardly protruding slot portion forming a sixth slot therethrough.

27. The container of claim 23 wherein the first slot and the second slot are single generally horizontal slots adapted to deform thereby creating an opening when the second rim of the second container contacts the first slot and the second slot.

28. The container of claim 23 wherein the first slot and the second slot are single generally horizontal hinged slots adapted to hingedly displace thereby creating an opening when the second rim of the second container contacts the first slot and the second slot.

29. The container of claim 23 wherein the first slot and the second slot are dual generally horizontal slots adapted to deform thereby creating an opening when the second rim of the second container contacts the first slot and the second slot.

Description:

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to containers. More particularly, the present invention relates to releasably attaching container assemblies and containers used therein.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The use of inexpensive polymeric packaging containers has become popular, especially for preparing and serving various food products. Polymeric containers have been used for heating the food product(s) disposed therein.

It would be desirable to have a polymeric container that would be easy for the customer to close and open. It would also be desirable to provide a container that is releasably attachable and prevents or inhibits material, such as liquid, from leaving the container. It would also be desirable to provide a container that is releasably attachable and prevents or inhibits foreign materials from entering the container. It would be desirable for a container to function without necessarily having a lid, but if a lid is desired to form a container assembly, a customer would be able to form such an assembly easily.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to one embodiment of the present invention, a container assembly comprises a first polymeric container and a second polymeric container. The first polymeric container includes a first continuous body portion and a first rim. The first rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the first body portion. The first rim has a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion. The first upwardly protruding slot portion forms a first slot therethrough. The second upwardly protruding slot portion forms a second slot therethrough. The first rim has a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof, generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion. The first rim has a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof, generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion. The second polymeric container includes a second continuous body portion and a second rim. The second rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the second body portion. The second rim has a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The third upwardly protruding slot portion forms a third slot therethrough. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forms a fourth slot therethrough. The second rim has a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof, generally ninety degrees from the third upwardly protruding slot portion. The second rim has a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof, generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The first container and the second container are adapted to be releasably attachable to each other by pressing the first and second rims together such that the first generally horizontal area of the first container inserts into the third slot of the second container. The second generally horizontal area of the first container inserts into the fourth slot of the second container. The third generally horizontal area of the second container inserts into the first slot of the first container. The fourth generally horizontal area of the second container inserts into the second slot of the first container.

According to one process of the present invention, a method of forming a polymeric container assembly is provided. The method provides a first polymeric container that includes a first continuous body portion and a first rim having a first surface. The first rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the first body portion. The first rim has a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion. The first upwardly protruding slot portion forms a first slot therethrough. The second upwardly protruding slot portion forms a second slot therethrough. The first rim has a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion. The first rim has a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion. The method provides a second polymeric container that includes a second continuous body portion and a second rim that has a second surface. The second rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the second body portion. The second rim has a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The third upwardly protruding slot portion forms a third slot therethrough. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forms a fourth slot therethrough. The second rim has a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the third- upwardly protruding slot portion. The second rim has a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The method flips one of the first container and the second container such that the first container and second container are generally aligned and the first rim and the second rim are adjacent to each other. One of the first container and the second container rotates ninety degrees such that the first upwardly protruding slot portion of the first container generally aligns with the third generally horizontal area. The second upwardly protruding slot portion generally aligns with the fourth generally horizontal area. The third upwardly protruding slot portion aligns with the first generally horizontal area. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion aligns with the second generally horizontal area. The first and second rims press together. The process inserts the third generally horizontal area into the first slot. The fourth generally horizontal area inserts into the second slot. The first generally horizontal area inserts into the third slot. The second generally horizontal area inserts into the fourth slot.

According to another process of the present invention, a method of forming a polymeric container assembly is provided. The method provides a first polymeric container that includes a first continuous body portion and a first rim having a first surface. The first rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the first body portion. The first rim has a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion. The first upwardly protruding slot portion forms a first slot and a second slot therethrough. The second upwardly protruding slot portion forms a third slot and a fourth slot therethrough. The first rim has a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion. The first rim has a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion. The method provides a second polymeric container that includes a second continuous body portion and a second rim that has a second surface. The second rim encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the second body portion. The second rim has a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The third upwardly protruding slot portion forms a fifth slot and a sixth slot therethrough. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forms a seventh slot and an eighth slot therethrough. The second rim has a third generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the third upwardly protruding slot portion. The second rim has a fourth generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The method flips one of the first container and the second container such that the first container and second container are generally aligned and the first rim and the second rim are adjacent to each other. One of the first container and the second container rotates ninety degrees such that the first upwardly protruding slot portion of the first container generally aligns with the third generally horizontal area. The second upwardly protruding slot portion generally aligns with the fourth generally horizontal area. The third upwardly protruding slot portion aligns with the first generally horizontal area. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion aligns with the second generally horizontal area. The first and second rims press together. The process inserts the third generally horizontal area into the first slot and the second slot. The fourth generally horizontal area inserts into the third slot and the fourth slot. The first generally horizontal area inserts into the fifth slot and the sixth slot. The second generally horizontal area inserts into the seventh slot and the eighth slot.

According to another embodiment of the present invention, a first polymeric container for use in a container assembly the first polymeric container comprises a continuous body portion, and a rim. The rim encompasses and projects laterally outward from the body portion. The rim has a first upwardly protruding slot portion and a second upwardly protruding slot portion. The first upwardly protruding slot portion forms a first slot therethrough. The second upwardly protruding slot portion forms a second slot therethrough. The rim has a first generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the first upwardly protruding slot portion. The rim has a second generally horizontal area at a periphery thereof generally ninety degrees from the second upwardly protruding slot portion. The first polymeric container is adapted to be releasably attachable to a second container having at least a second rim having a third upwardly protruding slot portion and a fourth upwardly protruding slot portion. The third upwardly protruding slot portion forms a third slot therethrough. The fourth upwardly protruding slot portion forms a fourth slot therethrough.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to one embodiment of the present.

FIG. 2 is a top view of the container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a front view of the container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a side view of the container of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a front view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 1 and a substantially similar container according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to another embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 7 is a top view of the container of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a front view of the container of FIG. 6.

FIG. 9 is a side view of the container of FIG. 6.

FIG. 10 is a front view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 6 and a substantially similar container according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 11 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to a further embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 12 is cross-sectional view taken along line 12-12 of FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is a cross-sectional view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 11 and a substantially similar container.

FIG. 14 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to yet another embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 15 is cross-sectional view taken along line 15-15 of FIG. 14.

FIG. 16 is a cross-sectional view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 15 and a substantially similar container.

FIG. 17 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to yet a further embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 18 is cross-sectional view taken along line 18-18 of FIG. 17.

FIG. 19 is a cross-sectional view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 17 and a substantially similar container.

FIG. 20 is an isometric view of a container to be used with a container assembly according to still yet another embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 21 is cross-sectional view taken along line 21-21 of FIG. 20.

FIG. 22 is a cross-sectional view of a container assembly comprising the container of FIG. 20 and a substantially similar container.

While the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, specific embodiments thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and will herein be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that it is not intended to limit the invention to the particular forms disclosed but, on the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS

Referring to FIGS. 1-4, a container 10 according to one embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container 10 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 100 (FIG. 5) that includes the container 10 and a second container 110 (FIG. 5). The containers 10, 110 may be substantially the same or, alternatively, the container 110 may be identical to the container 10 to form a container assembly that is releasably lockable.

The container assemblies and containers of the present invention are typically used with respect to food, but may be used in other applications such as to store household goods, medical supplies, cosmetics or other items. Food container assemblies and containers may be used for serving, storing, preparing and/or re-heating the food.

Referring still to FIGS. 1-4, the container 10 includes a continuous body portion 12 and a continuous rim 14 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 12. The body portion 12 includes a bottom 16 and a continuous sidewall 18 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 16. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 16 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 16. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIGS. 1-4, the rim 14 includes slot portions 20a, 20b. The slot portions 20a, 20b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 14. Each of the slot portions 20a, 20b of the rim 14 forms slots 22a, 22b therethrough. The slots 22a, 22b are located above the rim 14 on the slot protrusions 20a, 20b. The rim 14 further includes generally horizontal areas 24a, 24b located approximately ninety degrees from the slots 22a, 22b along the periphery of the rim 14.

Turning now to FIG. 5, a container assembly 100 according to one embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 100 comprises the first container 10 and the second container 110. In one embodiment, the second container 110 is shaped substantially the same as the first container 10. Alternatively, the second container 110 may be identical to the first container. It may be desirable to have identically shaped containers to reduce waste by a consumer when the second container is not used.

It is contemplated that other container assemblies may be formed besides those in FIG. 5. For example, container assemblies may be formed, but are not limited to, using plates, bowls, platters, tubs, single-serve and family-size containers, single-serve and family-size ovenware, and combinations thereof. One such combination is a bowl and a plate that forms a container assembly. The remainder of the application generally discusses container and container assemblies with respect to plates although it is recognized by one of ordinary skill in the art that other container assemblies, such as those discussed above, may be formed.

The height and shape of the container assemblies may vary from that shown without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, the container assembly of FIG. 5, as will be discussed in more detail below, is depicted as being generally circular. It is contemplated that the container assemblies and containers used herein may be other shapes such as square, hexagonal, octagonal, other polygonal shapes, or non-polygonal shapes such as ovals.

The container assembly 100 of FIG. 5 may be formed according to one method by providing the first container 10 and the second container 110. The second container 110 includes a continuous body portion 112 and a continuous rim 114 that encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the body portion 112. The body portion 112 includes a bottom 116 and a continuous sidewall 118 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 116. The rim 114 includes slot portions 120a, 120b. The slot portions 120a, 120b protrude generally upward from the rim 114. Each of the slot portions 120a, 120b of the rim 114 forms slots 122a, 122b therethrough. The slots 122a, 122b are located above the rim 114 on the slot portions 120a, 120b. The rim 114 further includes a first generally horizontal area (not shown) and a second generally horizontal area 124b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 120a, 120b along the periphery of the rim 114.

The second container 110 is flipped 180 degrees relative to the first container 10 such that the containers 10, 110 are generally aligned and the rims 14, 114 are adjacent to each other. The second container 110 is then rotated 90 degrees such that the slot portion 120a of the second container 110 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area 24a of the first container 10, the slot portion 120b of the second container 110 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area 24b of the first container 10, the slot portion 20a of the first container 10 is adjacent to the first generally horizontal area of the second container 110, and the slot portion 20b of the first container 10 is adjacent to the second generally horizontal area 124b of the second container 110.

As the slot portions 20a, 20b, 120a, 120b of the respective first and second containers 10, 110 protrude above the rims 14, 114 of the first and second container 10, 110, when the second container 110 is flipped 180 degrees relative to the first container, the slots 22a, 22b of the first container 10 vertically align with the respective generally horizontal areas of the rim 114 of the second container 110. Similarly, the slots 122a, 122b of the second container 110 vertically align with the respective generally horizontal areas 24a, 24b of the rim 14 of the first container 10.

The generally horizontal areas 24a, 24b of the rim 14 of the first container 10 are then inserted into the respective slots 122a, 122b of the second container 110. Similarly, the generally horizontal areas of the rim 114 of the second container 110 are inserted into the respective slots 22a, 22b of the first container 10. Thus, the first container 10 and the second container 110 are interlocked to form the container assembly 100.

Referring to FIGS. 6-9, a container 210 according to one embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container 210 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 300 (FIG. 10) that includes the container 210 and a second container 310 (FIG. 5). The containers 210, 310 may be substantially the same or, alternatively, the container 310 may be identical to the container 210 to form a container assembly that is releasably lockable.

The container 210 includes a continuous body portion 212 and a continuous rim 214 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 212. The body portion 212 includes a bottom 216 and a continuous sidewall 218 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 216. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 216 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 216. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIGS. 6-9, the rim 214 includes slot portions 220a, 220b. The slot portions 220a, 220b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 214. The slot portion 220a of the rim 214 forms slot 222a and slot 222b therethrough. The slots 222a, 222b are located above the rim 214 on the slot portion 220a. The slot portion 220b of the rim 214 forms slot 222c and slot 222d therethrough. The slots 222c, 222d are located above the rim 214 on the slot portion 220b. The rim 214 further includes generally horizontal areas 224a, 224b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 220a, 220b along the periphery of the rim 214.

Turning now to FIG. 10, a container assembly 300 according to another embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 300 comprises the first container 210 and the second container 310. In one embodiment, the second container 310 is shaped substantially the same as the first container 210. Alternatively, the second container 310 may be identical to the first container.

The container assembly 300 of FIG. 10 may be formed according to one method by providing the first container 210 and the second container 310. The second container 310 includes a continuous body portion 312 and a continuous rim 314 that encompasses and projects laterally outwardly from the body portion 312. The body portion 312 includes a bottom 316 and a continuous sidewall 318 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 316. The rim 314 includes slot portions 320a, 320b. The slot portions 320a, 320b protrude generally upward from the rim 114. The slot portion 320a of the rim 314 forms slot 322a and slot 322b therethrough. The slots 322a, 322b are located above the rim 314 on the slot portion 320a. The slot portion 320b of the rim 314 forms slot 322c and slot 322d therethrough. The slots 322c, 322d are located above the rim 314 on the slot portion 320b. The rim 314 further includes a first generally horizontal area (not shown) and a second generally horizontal area 324b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 320a, 320b along the periphery of the rim 314.

The second container 310 is flipped 180 degrees relative to the first container 210 such that the containers 210, 310 are generally aligned and the rims 214, 314 are adjacent to each other. The second container 310 is then rotated 90 degrees such that the slot portion 320a of the second container 310 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area 224a of the first container 210, the slot portion 320b of the second container 310 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area 224b of the first container 210, the slot portion 220a of the first container 210 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area of the second container 310, and the slot portion 220b of the first container 210 is adjacent to the generally horizontal area 324b of the second container 310.

As the slot portions 220a, 220b, 320a, 320b of the respective first and second containers 210, 310 protrude above the rims 214, 314 of the first and second container 210, 310, when the second container 310 is flipped 180 degrees relative to the first container 210, the slots 222a, 222b of the first container 210 vertically align with the generally horizontal area of the rim 314 of the second container. Additionally, the slots 222c, 222d of the first container 210 vertically align with the generally horizontal area 324b of the rim 314 of the second container 310. Similarly, the slots 322a, 322b, of the second container 310 vertically align with the generally horizontal area 224a of the first container 210. Likewise, the slots 322c, 322d of the second container 310 vertically align with the generally horizontal area 224b of the rim 214 of the first container 210.

The generally horizontal areas 224a, 224b of the rim 214 of the first container 210 are then inserted into the respective slots 322a, 322b and 322c, 322d of the second container 310. Similarly, the generally horizontal areas of the rim 314 of the second container 310 are inserted into the respective slots 222a, 322b and 222c, 222d of the first container 210. Thus, the first container 210 and the second container 310 are interlocked to form the container assembly 300.

Turning now to FIG. 11, a container 410 is shown according to another embodiment of the present invention. The container 410 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 500 (FIG. 13) that includes the container 410 and a second container 510 (FIG. 13). The containers 410, 510 are substantially identical.

The container 410 includes a continuous body portion 412 and a continuous rim 414 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 412. The body portion 412 includes a bottom 416 and a continuous sidewall 418 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 416. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 416 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 416. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIG. 11, the rim 414 includes slot portions 420a, 420b. The slot portions 420a, 420b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 414. The slot portion 420a of the rim 414 forms slot 422a therethrough. The slot 422a is located above the rim 414 on the slot portion 420a. The slot portion 420b of the rim 414 forms slot 422b therethrough. The slot 422b is located above the rim 414 on the slot portion 420b. The rim 414 further includes generally horizontal areas 424a, 424b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 420a, 420b along the periphery of the rim 414.

As shown in FIG. 12, the slot 422a is single generally horizontal slot. The slot 422a is generally identical to the slot 422b.

Turning now to FIG. 13, a container assembly 500 according to another embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 500 comprises the first container 410 and the second container 510. In one embodiment, the second container 510 is identical to the first container 410. A generally horizontal area 524b of the second container 510 inserts into the slot 422b of the first container 410. The generally horizontal area 524b deforms the second slot 422b by opening the slot 422b, allowing the generally horizontal area 524b to interact with the slot 422b, locking the containers together. An identical horizontal area interacts with the first slot 422a of the container 410.

Turning now to FIG. 14, a container 610 is shown according to another embodiment of the present invention. The container 610 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 700 (FIG. 16) that includes the container 610 and a second container 710 (FIG. 16). The containers 610, 710 shown in the embodiment depicted in FIG. 16 are identical.

The container 610 includes a continuous body portion 612 and a continuous rim 614 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 612. The body portion 612 includes a bottom 616 and a continuous sidewall 618 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 616. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 616 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 616. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIG. 14, the rim 614 includes slot portions 620a, 620b. The slot portions 620a, 620b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 614. The slot portion 620a of the rim 614 forms slot 622a therethrough. The slot 622a is located above the rim 614 on the slot portion 620a. The slot portion 620b of the rim 614 forms slot 622b therethrough. The slot 622b is located above the rim 614 on the slot portion 620b. The rim 614 further includes generally horizontal areas 624a, 624b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 620a, 620b along the periphery of the rim 614.

As shown in FIG. 15, the slot 622a is single generally horizontal slot. The slot 622a is generally identical to the slot 622b.

Turning now to FIG. 16, a container assembly 700 according to yet another embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 700 comprises the first container 610 and the second container 710. In one embodiment, the second container 710 is identical to the first container 610. A generally horizontal area 724b of the second container 710 inserts into the slot 622b of the first container 610. The generally horizontal area 724b deforms the second slot 622b by hinging the slot 622b open, allowing the generally horizontal area 724b to interact with the slot 622b, locking the containers together. An identical horizontal area interacts with the first slot 622a of the container 610.

Referring next to FIG. 17, a container 810 is shown according to another embodiment of the present invention. The container 810 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 900 (FIG. 19) that includes the container 810 and a second container 910 (FIG. 19). The containers 810, 910 shown in the embodiment depicted in FIG. 19 are identical.

The container 810 includes a continuous body portion 812 and a continuous rim 814 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 812. The body portion 812 includes a bottom 816 and a continuous sidewall 818 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 816. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 816 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 816. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIG. 17, the rim 814 includes slot portions 820a, 820b. The slot portions 820a, 820b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 814. The slot portion 820a of the rim 814 forms a slot 822a therethrough. The slot 822a is located above the rim 814 on the slot portion 820a. The slot portion 820b of the rim 814 forms a slot 822b therethrough. The slot 822b is located above the rim 814 on the slot portion 820b. The rim 814 further includes generally horizontal areas 824a, 824b located approximately ninety degrees from the respective slot portions 820a, 820b along the periphery of the rim 814.

As shown in FIG. 18, the slot 822a is single generally horizontal slot. The slot 822a is generally identical to the slot 822b.

Turning now to FIG. 19, a container assembly 900 according to yet a further embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 900 comprises the first container 810 and the second container 910. In one embodiment, the second container 910 is identical to the first container 810. A generally horizontal area 924b of the second container 910 inserts into the slot 822b of the first container 810. The generally horizontal area 924b fits within the second slot 822b, allowing the generally horizontal area 924b to interact with the slot 822b, locking the containers together. An identical horizontal area interacts with the first slot 822a of the container 810.

FIG. 20 depicts a container 1010 according to still yet another embodiment of the present invention. The container 1010 is adapted to be used in a container assembly 1100 (FIG. 22) that includes the container 1010 and a second container 1110 (FIG. 22). The containers 1010, 1110 shown in the embodiment depicted in FIG. 22 are identical.

The container 1010 includes a continuous body portion 1012 and a continuous rim 1014 encompassing and projecting laterally outwardly from the body portion 1012. The body portion 1012 includes a bottom 1016 and a continuous sidewall 1018 encompassing and projecting upwardly and outwardly from the bottom 1016. It is contemplated that the sidewall may project only upwardly from the bottom 1016 or even project upwardly and inwardly from the bottom 1016. It is also contemplated that the rim may not be continuous, although it is desirably continuous.

As shown in FIG. 20, the rim 1014 includes slot portions 1020a, 1020b. The slot portions 1020a, 1020b protrude generally upwardly from the rim 1014. The slot portion 1020a of the rim 1014 forms slot 1022a therethrough. The slot 1022a is located above the rim 1014 on the slot portion 1020a. The slot portion 1020b of the rim 1014 forms slot 1022b therethrough. The slot 1022b is located above the rim 1014 on the slot portion 1020b. The rim 1014 further includes generally horizontal areas 1024a, 1024b located approximately ninety degrees from the slot portions 1020a, 1020b along the periphery of the rim 1014.

As shown in FIG. 21, the slot 1022b is a formed from two generally horizontal cuts within the slot portion 1020b. The slot 1022a is generally identical to the slot 1022b.

Turning now to FIG. 22, a container assembly 1100 according to yet another embodiment of the present invention is shown. The container assembly 1100 comprises the first container 1010 and the second container 1110. In one embodiment, the second container 1110 is identical to the first container 1010. A generally horizontal area 1124b of the second container 1110 inserts into the slot 1022b of the first container 1010. The generally horizontal area 1124b deforms the second slot 1022b by displacing the slot 1022b to an open position, allowing the generally horizontal area 1124b to interact with the slot 1022b, locking the containers together. An identical horizontal area interacts with the first slot 1022a of the container 1010.

The container and container assemblies of the present invention (e.g., the containers discussed above in FIGS. 1-22) are formed from polymeric materials. The polymeric containers and container assemblies may be formed from polyolefins. The polymeric containers and container assemblies are typically formed from orientated polystyrene (OPS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene and combinations thereof. The containers and containers assemblies may be made from a mineral-filled polymeric material such as, for example, talc or calcium carbonate-filled polyolefin. It is contemplated that one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that other polymers or combination of polymers may be used to form the containers and container assemblies.

The containers and container assemblies may be formed by a polymeric foam. For example, the containers and container assemblies may be formed from a polystyrene foam. One example of a polystyrene foam is a high-impact polystyrene (HIPS). It is contemplated that one of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that other polymeric foams or combination of polymeric foams may be used to form the containers and container assemblies.

The containers and container assemblies of the present invention are typically disposable, but it is contemplated that they may be reused at a future time. The containers used in forming the container assemblies (e.g., container 10) are shown as including one compartment. It is contemplated that the containers may be formed of multiple compartments. Such containers are desirable for placing items (e.g., food items) in different compartments to prevent or inhibit commingling of items. For example, undesirable mixing of food items can corrupt the flavor and the consistency of the food items.

The container assemblies and containers of the present invention are typically used with respect to food, but may be used in other applications such as to store household goods, medical supplies, cosmetics or other items. Food container assemblies and containers may be used for serving, storing, preparing and/or re-heating the food.

A method of using such container assemblies includes placing the food and locking the containers to form a container assembly with food therein. The container assembly is then placed in a heating apparatus and heated. Typical heating apparatuses include microwaves and conventional ovens. The container assemblies may contain solid food products. The container assemblies may be used for storage in the refrigerator and/or the freezer.

The containers to be used in forming the container assemblies of the present invention may be formed using conventional thermoforming (e.g., by pressure, vacuum or the combination thereof), injection-molding processes, or rotational molding. According to one method of thermoforming, pellets of a polymeric resin and additives, if any, are added into an extruder. The pellets of the polymeric resin and additives, if any, are melted to form a blend. The blend is extruded through a die to form an extruded sheet. The extruded sheet is thermoformed to a desired shape of a container to be used in forming the container assembly.

The thickness of the container to be used in forming the container assemblies generally ranges from about 0.002 to about 0.15 inch, but is typically from about 0.005 to about 0.04 inch. The container assemblies may be opaque or a variety of colors or color combinations. The container assemblies typically have at least one transparent container if it is desired for the customer to ascertain the nature of the accommodated product and the condition thereof without having to open the container assembly.

While particular embodiments and applications of the present invention have been illustrated and described, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to the precise construction disclosed herein and that various modifications, changes, and variations may be apparent from the foregoing descriptions without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.