Title:
Collapsible container with compartments
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A collapsible container has a longitudinal axis with a top frame and a bottom frame connected by a spiral frame where the frames encircle the axis. The spiral frame is collapsible along the axis and the container has a web of flexible material supported by the frame. A first stiffener has opposing ends fastened to the container along a length of the frame that curves outward around the longitudinal axis. The stiffener has a first curved position extending adjacent the frame and a second position curved in an opposite direction to define an opening to a compartment between the frame and the stiffener. The compartment has a sidewall formed by a sheet of material fastened to the stiffener and the web of material supported by the frame. A plurality of these compartments can be provided, with the stiffener holding the entrance to the compartment open or closed.



Inventors:
Sabounjian, Azad (Irvine, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/407502
Publication Date:
11/08/2007
Filing Date:
04/20/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D33/02
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
GROSSO, HARRY A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STETINA BRUNDA GARRED & BRUCKER (ALISO VIEJO, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A collapsible container having a longitudinal axis with a top frame and a bottom frame connected by a spiral frame, the frames encircling the axis, the spiral frame being collapsible along the axis, the container having a web of flexible material supported by the frame and a bottom panel connected to the container, comprising: a first stiffener having opposing ends fastened to the container along a length of the frame such that the distance between opposing ends of the stiffener is less than a length of the stiffener, the stiffener having a first position extending adjacent the frame, the stiffener having a second position extending in an opposite direction to define an opening to a compartment between the frame and the stiffener, the compartment having a sidewall formed at least in part by a sheet of material connected to the stiffener.

2. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the compartment is further defined by the web of material on the container.

3. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the compartment is further defined by the web of material on the container and a bottom panel of the container.

4. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the compartment is defined entirely by the side wall.

5. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the first stiffener extends along a portion of the top frame.

6. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the first stiffener extends along a portion of the spiral frame.

7. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the center of the stiffener is closer to the longitudinal axis in the second position than in the first position, and extends into an interior of the container.

8. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the center of the stiffener is further from the longitudinal axis in the second position than in the first position.

9. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the side wall has a bottom, and further comprising a second stiffener fastened to the bottom of the side wall, the second stiffener having opposing ends fastened to the container along a length of the frame such that the distance between opposing ends of the second stiffener is less than a length of the second stiffener, the second stiffener having a first position in which it extends along and adjacent to the frame, the second stiffener having a second position extending in an opposite direction to define a space between the second stiffener and the adjacent frame.

10. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the spiral frame is circular, the container is cylindrical, and the first stiffener has a continuous radius of curvature for a majority of the length of the first stiffener.

11. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the stiffener comprises a strip of plastic contained in a stiffener pocket with opposing ends of the stiffener pocket fastened to the container adjacent the frame, and where the first and second positions are on the opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the first stiffener.

12. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein the frame is contained in a frame pocket extending along a length of the frame and fastened to the web of material, and wherein the stiffener comprises a strip of plastic contained in a stiffener pocket with opposing ends of the stiffener pocket fastened to the frame pocket, the side wall being fastened to the stiffener pocket, the stiffener having a length less than half the length of a periphery of the top frame, the first stiffener maintaining that second position under the force of gravity.

13. The collapsible container of claim 1, wherein there are n compartments with n being between 2 and 6, each compartment having a stiffener connected to the top frame or spiral frame and a separate compartment associated with that stiffener, each stiffener having a length less than the length of the periphery of the top frame divided by n.

14. A collapsible container having a longitudinal axis with a top frame and a bottom frame connected by a spiral frame, the frames encircling the axis, the spiral frame being collapsible along the axis, the container having a web of flexible material supported by the frame and a bottom panel connected to the container, comprising: a first compartment formed at least in part by a flexible sidewall and having an entrance formed in part by one of the frames; stiffener means for forming a portion of the entrance and for positioning the entrance between a closed position adjacent and along the frame and an open position spaced apart from the frame, the stiffener means being connected to the sidewall at the entrance and connected to said one of the frames.

15. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the first compartment is further defined by the web of material on the container.

16. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the first compartment is further defined by the web of material on the container and a bottom panel of the container.

17. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the first compartment is defined entirely by the side wall.

18. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the entrance is defined in part by the top frame.

19. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the stiffener means comprises a stiffener having a center that is closer to the longitudinal axis in the open position than in the closed position, and extends into an interior of the container.

20. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the stiffener means comprises a stiffener having a center that is further from the longitudinal axis in the open position than in the closed position.

21. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the side wall has a bottom edge and further comprising second stiffener means for positioning the bottom of the sidewall between a first position adjacent and along the frame and an second position spaced apart from the frame, the second stiffener means being connected to the sidewall adjacent the bottom edge.

22. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the spiral frame is circular and the container is cylindrical.

23. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the first stiffener means comprises a strip of plastic contained in a stiffener pocket with opposing ends of the stiffener pocket fastened to the container adjacent the frame, wherein the first and second positions are on opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the first stiffener and the stiffener maintaining the first and second positions under the force of gravity.

24. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein the first frame means has a length less than half the length of the periphery of the frame where the first frame means connects to the frame.

25. The collapsible container of claim 14, wherein there are n compartments with n being between 2 and 6, each compartment having a stiffener means fastening to the top frame, each stiffener means having a length less than the length of the periphery of the top frame divided by n.

26. A container having a longitudinal axis and frame; comprising: a concave portion in the frame; a stiffener adjacent at least part of the concave portion of the frame with opposing ends of the stiffener connected to the frame so the distance between the connected ends is less than the length of the stiffener between those connected ends; a sheet of material connected to the stiffener to form at least part of the compartment, the stiffener being positionable between a closed position adjacent the concave portion of the frame and an open position on the opposing side of a chord extending between the ends of the stiffener.

27. The container of claim 26, wherein the frame has a peripheral length and the stiffener has a length of less than about half the peripheral length.

28. The container of claim 26, wherein the stiffener can move from the open to the closed position by passing through the chord.

29. The container of claim 26, wherein the middle of the stiffener extends toward the longitudinal axis in the open position.

30. The container of claim 26, wherein the middle of the stiffener extends away from the longitudinal axis in the open position.

31. A method of opening a collapsible container having top and bottom frames connected by a spiral frame, the frames encircling a longitudinal axis, the container having a web of material supported by the frame with a bottom panel connected to the container, the spiral frame being compressed along the longitudinal axis and held in that compressed configuration by a releasable mechanism, comprising: releasing the mechanism and expanding the spiral frame, and either opening a first compartment in the container by moving a first curved stiffener having opposing ends connected to one of the spiral or top frame from a first closed position where the first stiffener is along and adjacent the one of the spiral or top frame, to a second open position where the first and second positions are on opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the first stiffener, the first stiffener having opposing ends connected to a side wall defining at least a portion of the compartment and the length of the stiffener in the closed position being greater than the straight-line distance between the ends of the stiffener; or closing a first compartment in the container by moving the first curved stiffener from the open position to the closed position.

32. The method of claim 31, further comprising moving a second stiffener having opposing ends connected to the bottom frame from a first closed position where the second stiffener is along and adjacent the bottom frame, to a second open position where the first and second positions of the second stiffener are on opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the second stiffener, the first and second stiffeners being connected to the same side wall.

33. The method of claim 31, wherein the first stiffener is connected to the top frame and has a length that is less than half the length of the periphery of the first frame.

34. The method of claim 31, wherein when the first stiffener is in the second position, a center of the stiffener is closer to the longitudinal axis than when the first stiffener is in the first position.

Description:

BACKGROUND

Various collapsible hampers use wire frames. Spiral-wound frames form generally cylindrical containers as in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,431,393, 6,392,987.

Pockets are added to the flat-sided containers by sewing pockets to the panels. But exterior pockets are unsightly and leave loose fabric hanging about which can catch and entangle passing items. Interior pockets have the same problem. The openings for these pockets are difficult to access, and if the pockets are made large enough so the opening sags open, then the pocket opening entangles passing items. Further, the pocket openings are flexible and pliant, so the pocket has no well defined opening unless a user grabs the pocket and holds it open—which requires use of a person's hand and that makes it difficult to use two hands to put things into the pocket. There is thus a need for pockets that assume an open position on desire, without requiring a person to hold the pocket open. There is also a need for a pocket that does not sag away from the container to entangle things.

Pockets are typically not added to the inside of spiral-frame, cylindrical containers because such pockets are always held open when the top of the pocket extends across the curved frame of the container. The chord of the circular opening is shorter than the curved frame and that holds the pocket open even if the pocket has elastic material on it. There is thus a need for a closable interior pocket for a cylindrical container with a spiral frame.

There is thus a need for pockets that assume an open position when desired, without requiring a person to hold the pocket open. There is also a need for a pocket that does not sag away from the container to entangle things and that is held open for use.

SUMMARY

A cylindrical, collapsible container is provided having a spiral frame preferably formed of spring wire or plastic tubing so the container collapses along a central, longitudinal axis of the container between a collapsed configuration and an expanded configuration. The container has sides formed of flexible material, and a closed bottom formed by a piece of material that is preferably, but optionally fastened to the sides or to the frame. The top of the container is preferably open and encircled by the frame.

A compartment is formed on the inside of the container by placing a piece of fabric along at least a portion of the height of one side, and preferably the entire height of one side from the top frame to the bottom frame. A stiffener has its opposing ends fastened along the top edge of the compartment. A plastic strip placed in an edging along a top of the compartment is suitable for use as the stiffener. The length of the stiffener is preferably less than half the circumference of the top opening. Advantageously, the stiffener has a length less than about ⅓ the circumference of the top and preferably the length of the stiffener is about ¼ the circumference of the top, and there are four compartments each of which preferably uses at least one stiffener.

The stiffener is of a material sufficiently flexible that it can conform to the curvature of the frame at the top of the container in a closed position, or can bow the opposite direction into the inside of the container to hold the compartment in an open position. The bottom of the compartment can be fastened to the bottom of the container, or fastened to the side of the container or the frame. Alternatively, the bottom of the compartment can have a stiffener like the top, and be positionable between an open and closed position, with the bottom not being fastened to the container except adjacent the ends of the stiffener.

In a further variation, the connection of the ends of the stiffener to the container are sufficiently flexible that the stiffener can rotate from a first position conforming to the curvature of the adjacent frame of the container, to a second position extending into the interior of the container and preferably in the same orthogonal plane as the first position, in order to define an opening. But the stiffeners need not be contained in compartments and can be fastened to the periphery of the container by other mechanisms, including rivets, pins, snaps, adhesives, sewing, and other fastening mechanisms.

There is thus advantageously provided a container having a longitudinal axis and frame. The frame has a concave portion. A stiffener extends along a portion of the concave portion of the frame. Opposing ends of the stiffener are connected to the frame so the distance between the connected ends is less than the length of the stiffener between those connected ends. A sheet of material is connected to the stiffener to form at least part of the compartment. The stiffener is positionable between a closed position adjacent the concave portion of the frame and an open position on the opposing side of a chord extending between the ends of the stiffener. Preferably, but optionally, the frame has a peripheral length and the stiffener has a length of less than about half that peripheral length. Preferably, but optionally, the stiffener can move from the open to the closed position by passing through the chord. Alternatively, the stiffener can rotate around that chord to move between the positions. Advantageously, the middle of the stiffener extends toward the longitudinal axis in the open position, but the middle of the stiffener can extend away from the longitudinal axis in the open position.

In a more detailed description the collapsible container has a longitudinal axis with a top frame and a bottom frame connected by a spiral frame, the frames encircling the axis, the spiral frame being collapsible along the axis, the container having a web of flexible material supported by the frame and a bottom panel connected to the container. The container has a first stiffener with opposing ends fastened to the container along a length of the frame such that the distance between opposing ends of the stiffener is less than a length of the stiffener. The stiffener has a first position extending adjacent the frame and a second position extending in an opposite direction to define an opening to a compartment between the frame and the stiffener. The compartment has a sidewall formed at least in part by a sheet of material connected to the stiffener.

In further variations of the above container, the compartment is further defined by the web of material on the container, or it can be defined by the web of material on the container and a bottom panel of the container, or it can be entirely defined by the side wall. Preferably, but optionally, the first stiffener extends along a portion of the top frame, but could extend along a portion of the spiral frame. Preferably, but optionally, the center of the stiffener is closer to the longitudinal axis in the second position than in the first position, and extends into an interior of the container. Alternatively, the center of the stiffener can be is further from the longitudinal axis in the second position than in the first position.

In a further variation the side wall has a bottom and a second stiffener is fastened to the bottom of the side wall with the second stiffener having opposing ends fastened to the container along a length of the frame such that the distance between opposing ends of the second stiffener is less than a length of the second stiffener. Like the first stiffener, the second stiffener has a first position in which it extends along and adjacent to the frame, and a second position extending in an opposite direction to define a space between the second stiffener and the adjacent frame.

Preferably, but optionally, the spiral frame is circular, the container is cylindrical and the first stiffener has a continuous radius of curvature for a majority of the length of the first stiffener. But the frame can have various shapes. The stiffener preferably comprises a strip of plastic contained in a stiffener pocket with opposing ends of the stiffener pocket fastened to the container adjacent the frame. The first and second positions are on the opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the first stiffener and the pocket allows rotation along an axis parallel to the longitudinal axis for movement through the chord. Alternatively, the stiffener pocket allows the stiffener to rotate around the chord to reach the first and second positions.

Preferably, but optionally, the frame is contained in a frame pocket extending along a length of the frame and fastened to the web of material. The stiffener includes a strip of plastic contained in a stiffener pocket with opposing ends of the stiffener pocket fastened to the frame pocket. The side wall is then preferably fastened to the stiffener pocket.

Preferably, but optionally, the stiffener preferably has a length less than half the length of a periphery of the frame to which the stiffener is connected, and the first stiffener maintains that second position under the force of gravity. The side wall material may provide some support along the longitudinal axis to help maintain that stiffener position. If more than one compartments are used, then a stiffener is preferably, but optionally provided for each compartment. If there are n compartments with n being between 2 and infinity, each compartment having a stiffener connected to the top frame or spiral frame and a separate compartment associated with that stiffener, each stiffener having a length less than the length of the periphery of the top frame divided by n. Realistically you cannot have an infinite number of compartments and the permissible number of compartments will vary with the size of the container. For household sized containers less than a foot or two in diameter, 2-6 compartments are believed suitable, but more could be provided.

In another version the container has a first compartment formed at least in part by a flexible sidewall and having an entrance formed in part by one of the frames. Stiffener means form a portion of the entrance and position the entrance between a closed position adjacent and along the frame and an open position spaced apart from the frame. The stiffener means is connected to the sidewall at the entrance and connected to one of the frames. The above described variations can be used with this embodiment.

There is also provided a method of opening a collapsible container having top and bottom frames connected by a spiral frame. The frames encircle a longitudinal axis and the container has a web of material supported by the frame with a bottom panel connected to the container. The spiral frame is compressed along the longitudinal axis and held in that compressed configuration by a releasable mechanism. The method includes releasing the mechanism, expanding the spiral frame, and one of two things. The first thing is opening a first compartment in the container by moving a first curved stiffener having opposing ends connected to one of the spiral or top frame from a first closed position where the first stiffener is along and adjacent the one of the spiral or top frame, to a second open position where the first and second positions are on opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the first stiffener. The first stiffener has opposing ends connected to a side wall defining at least a portion of the compartment and the length of the stiffener in the closed position is greater than the straight-line distance between the ends of the stiffener. The second thing is closing a first compartment in the container by moving the first curved stiffener from the open position to the closed position. Preferably, but optionally, the method includes moving the stiffener between the open and closed positions by passing the stiffener through the chord. Alternatively, the method includes moving the stiffener between the open and closed positions by rotating the stiffener about the chord. In further variations, the method also includes moving a second stiffener having opposing ends connected to the bottom frame from a first closed position where the second stiffener is along and adjacent the bottom frame, to a second open position where the first and second positions of the second stiffener are on opposite sides of a chord extending between the ends of the second stiffener, the first and second stiffeners being connected to the same side wall. The first stiffener can be connected to the top frame and have a length that is less than half the length of the periphery of the first frame. Preferably, but optionally, when the first stiffener is in the second position, a center of the stiffener is closer to the longitudinal axis than when the first stiffener is in the first position.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other features and advantages of the various embodiments disclosed herein will be better understood with respect to the following description and drawings, in which like numbers refer to like parts throughout, and in which:

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of a collapsible container in an expanded configuration;

FIG. 2 is a right side perspective view of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a back perspective view of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a left side perspective view of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 5 is a top perspective view of the container of FIG. 1 with the compartments in a closed configuration;

FIG. 6 is a top perspective view of the container of FIG. 1 in a collapsed configuration;

FIG. 7 is a top perspective view of the container of FIG. 1 with compartments on the top and bottom of the figure open, and the compartments to the left and right of the container closed;

FIG. 8 is a top perspective view of the container of FIG. 1 with four open compartments;

FIG. 9 is a bottom plan view of the container of FIG. 1;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the container of FIG. 1 in a collapsed configuration with the bottom facing upward;

FIG. 11a is a partial sectional view of the container of FIG. 1 illustrating a compartment with a stiffener at the top and bottom of the container;

FIG. 11b is a partial sectional view of the container of FIG. 1 illustrating a compartment with a stiffener at the top of the compartment and container and the bottom sewn to the container 10;

FIG. 11c is a partial sectional view of the container of FIG. 1 illustrating a compartment with a stiffener at a spiral frame and at the bottom of the compartment;

FIG. 12 is a perspective view illustrating open and closed configurations of a stiffener;

FIG. 13 is a top plan view of FIG. 12;

FIG. 14 is a partial perspective view of an embodiment with a rotating stiffener to open and close the compartment; and

FIG. 15 is a partial plan view of an embodiment for an external compartment;

FIG. 16a is a partial sectional view of a top frame and compartment showing the connection of the stiffener pocket to a frame pocket in a closed position. And

FIG. 16b is a partial sectional view of a top frame and compartment showing the connection of the stiffener pocket to a frame pocket in an open position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to FIGS. 1-4 and 11a, the container 10 preferably has a cylindrical shape formed by a spiral frame 12 covered by a web of flexible material 14, which allows the container and frame to expand and compress along longitudinal axis 16. The frame 12 is preferably contained inside a frame pocket or frame edging 18 fastened to the web 14. The frame preferably stops its spiral and forms a generally circular top frame 20 and bottom frame 22, again preferably within pocket 18. A bottom panel 24 (FIG. 5) of material preferably closes the bottom frame 22 to enclose the interior of the container 10. The top frame 20 is preferably left open, but a closure could optionally be provided. A handle 26 is preferably, but optionally fastened to the container 10, and is shown fastened to the edging 18 along the top frame 20. It could be fastened to the top frame itself or fastened to the web of material 14. The frames 12, 20, 22 support the web of material 14 and bottom 24 to form an enclosure. The bottom panel 24 is preferably flexible, but could be of a stiff or hard material like wood, although a sheet of plastic is preferred if hard material is used.

As used herein the term up or top refers to a direction along the axis 16 from the bottom 24 toward the top frame 20, which is toward the top of the image of FIG. 1. The directions down or bottom refers to the opposing direction.

Referring to FIGS. 6 and 10 and the spiral frame can be collapsed by moving the top and bottom frames 20, 22 toward each other. Optionally, a fastening mechanism 28 holds the frames 20, 22 together in a collapsed configuration. The fastening mechanism is shown as a comprising a toggle 30 on an elastic strap 32 fastened to the outside of the container 10 adjacent bottom frame 22. A toggle loop 34 is fastened on the inside of the container 10 adjacent the bottom frame 22 so the loop encircles the toggle and encircles a portion of the collapsed container to hold it in the collapsed configuration. Ties, snaps, hooks, buckled straps and various other mechanisms could also be used to hold the collapsed frame 12 in its collapsed configuration with the top and bottom frames 20, 22 close together to reduce the height of the container 10, so the fastening mechanism is not limited to the illustrated mechanism.

Referring to FIGS. 5, 7, 8 and 11, at least one and preferably a plurality of compartments 36 are provided in the container 10 that sub-divide the inside of the container 10 into smaller portions. The compartments 36 have a first stiffener 38a at a top of the compartment and preferably, but optionally, have a second stiffener 38b at the bottom of the compartment. The stiffeners 38 are contained in stiffener pockets or stiffener edgings 40. A sheet of material extends between the stiffeners 38a, 38b to form a side wall 42 of the compartment located on the inside of the container 10. The web 14 and side wall 42 define an enclosed space for the compartment 36, which may or may not have a closed bottom. If the bottom stiffener is omitted, the bottom of the side wall 42 is fastened to the bottom sheet 24 of the container 10, or fastened to the bottom frame 20 or the bottom pocket 18, or left unattached. Alternatively the side wall 42 could be fastened to the frame 20 adjacent the closed position of the stiffener so the side wall 42 defines the entire compartment. The sides of the side wall 42 are preferably, but optionally fastened to the web 14 along seam lines 44.

The stiffeners 38 are preferably made of a flexible material such as sprint steel or plastic, and preferably, but optionally have a rectangular cross-section with the longer axis parallel to the longitudinal axis 16. The stiffener pockets 40 have a length that is shorter than the straight length as the stiffeners 38, and the shorter pockets 40 hold the stiffener in slight compression so the stiffener bends to conform to the shape of the adjacent frame 12, 20, 22. The opposing ends of the stiffener pockets 40 are fastened to the container 10, and preferably fastened to the frame pockets 18, but could be fastened to the frame itself or to the web 14 adjacent the frame. The frame pockets 18 form a circle as they extend around the top frame 20 and bottom frame 22 of container 10, and the ends of the stiffener pockets 40 are fastened to the frame pocket 18 so the length of the stiffener pocket extends along the circumference of the top or bottom frame, 18, 20, with the stiffener 38 curved to generally conform to the curvature of the corresponding frame 18, 20 to which it is generally connected through the frame pocket 18. The stiffener pocket 40 is preferably fastened to the inside of the frame pocket 18 so the stiffener abuts the inside of the top or bottom frame 18, 20 with which the stiffener is associated. Sewing or adhesives are preferred for this fastening.

Referring to FIGS. 16a-16b, the stiffener pocket 40 is shown sewn to the frame pocket 18 of the top frame 20 along stitch line 41, but connections other than stitches can be used. By making the frame pocket 40 shorter than the length of the stiffener 38, the stiffener is axially compressed and bowed against the frame 20. The end of the stiffener pocket 40 is fastened to the frame pocket 18 at a location adjacent one end of the stiffener, but between the ends of the stiffener, so that the stiffener pocket 40 folds back on itself as it reverses direction. The longer stiffener 38 pushes against the fold of the stiffener pocket 40 as the stiffener tries to straighten out, so that the folds in the pocket stiffener 40 maintain the stiffener in compression and bow it against the adjacent frame 12, 20, 22. As the stiffener 38 moves from the closed position (FIG. 16a) adjacent the frame 20, to the open position (FIG. 16b) spaced apart from the frame 20, the fold in the stiffener pocket 40 allows the end of the stiffener to rotate slightly about an axis parallel to longitudinal axis 16 in the depicted embodiment. The size of the opening for the compartment will vary with the length of the stiffener 38 and the curvature of the frame 12, 20, 22 which is adjacent the stiffener in the closed configuration. The same construction can be used with the other frames 12, 22 and can be used at the opposing end of the stiffener 38. Other mechanisms of fastening the stiffener to the container 10 can also be used as long as they allow the stiffener to rotate or bend between the open and closed positions, and as long as they hold the stiffener in slight compression to bow the stiffener the desired amount.

Referring to FIGS. 7-8 and 12-13, by fastening the stiffener pocket 40 so the length of the pocket and stiffener extend along the curvature of the curved (circular) frame 18, 20, the stiffener can also extend along that frame and that allows the stiffener to hold the compartment 36 closed. Because the stiffener is flexible, it can be bowed in the opposite direction, away from the adjacent frame 20, 22, in which case it will hold the top of the compartment 36 open. Thus, when the stiffener 38 and its associated stiffener pocket 40 are adjacent the frame 20, 22, the stiffener and frame cooperate to close the opening to compartment 36. When the stiffener 38 and its associated stiffener pocket 40 are curved in opposite directions (generally in a plane orthogonal to axis 16), then the stiffener is spaced apart from the adjacent frame 20, 22, the stiffener and frame cooperate to form an opening to compartment 36 and to hold the opening open.

When the stiffener 38 is moved from the position curving along the adjacent frame 20, 22 it typically bends in a slight “S” shape because the ends of the stiffener are held by the stiffener pocket 40 in a position adjacent the frame 20 or 22, and as the length of the chord between those ends is shorter than the length of the stiffener the stiffener must bend to pass through the chord line. In the open position the stiffener 38 has approximately the same curvature as it did when it was adjacent the frame 20, 22, but curved in the opposite direction. As the stiffener 38 passes through the chord, the ends of the stiffener preferably rotate slightly about an axis parallel to longitudinal axis 16.

By fastening the ends of the stiffener 38 so the stiffener is bowed, the distance between the two opposing ends of the stiffener is less than the length of the stiffener. The stiffener 38 is compressed as it moves from the open toward the chord position, or from the open position toward the chord position. The stiffener 38 is more stable in this bowed configuration than when the stiffener is moved toward the chord extending between the ends of the stiffener. The bowed stiffener thus maintains its position in either the open or closed orientation, and thus holds the compartment 36 open or closed. Because the stiffener 38 is unstable at positions other than the open or closed position, it is a two-way closure, and snaps open or snaps closed, and is unstable in positions intermediate the open and closed position. Preferably the stiffener 38 is rectangular in cross-section with the major axis parallel with longitudinal axis 16, so the less stiff axis facilitates bowing toward and away from the longitudinal axis and the frame 12, 20, 22. Preferably the stiffener pocket 40 helps maintain the orientation of the stiffener as it moves from the open to the closed position.

The length of the stiffener 38 is advantageously half, and preferably less than half, the length of the periphery of the associated frame 20, 22. If the stiffener 38 is about half the length of the periphery, then the stiffener 38 will merely flip from one side of container 10 to the opposing side. That provides two compartments 36 with one opening but an opening that can only be open for one compartment at a time. If the stiffener 38 is longer than half the peripheral length then the stiffener 38 will extend beyond the periphery of the associated frame 20, 22 when the stiffener is in either the open or closed position. It may be acceptable to have the stiffener extend slightly beyond the frame that is not desirable as it looks bad and it encourages picking the container 10 up by grabbing the stiffener rather than grabbing the frame 12, 20, 22 or handle. Thus, preferably the length of the stiffener 38 and its associated stiffener pocket 40 is less than half the peripheral length.

The depicted embodiment has four compartments 36, and thus each stiffener 38 has a length of about ¼ the length of the periphery. Because a circular container is shown, the periphery corresponds to the circumference, so the stiffener 38 ha a length of about πD/4, where D is the diameter of the depicted cylindrical container 10. If the container 10 has other shapes, then the calculation formula will vary. By changing the shape of the spiral frame 12 and/or top and bottom frames 20, 22, the container can be formed in various shapes, including various quadrilateral shapes as well as various curved shapes such as various ovals and/or ellipses. Indeed, the frames can have complex shapes as long as they extend round the longitudinal axis and have spiral frame 12 which may be compressed to provide a collapsible container.

In each of these cases the frames 12, 20, 22 encircle the longitudinal axis 16. Preferably, three or four compartments are used. The four compartments are shown as having the stiffeners 38 and the associated stiffener pockets 40 abutting end-to-end with the adjacent stiffener and pocket. But that need not be the case and the locations can be spaced apart along the periphery of the frame 20, 22. The lengths of stiffeners 38 used in the same container 10 also need not be the same and can vary depending on the size of opening desired for the compartment 36 associated with a particular stiffener. Further, because the side walls 42 can be fastened various ways to define different sized and shaped compartments 36, each compartment can have a larger or smaller opening by selecting the appropriate length of stiffener 38.

Note that if only a top stiffener 38a is provided, then the bottom of the compartment 36 can be of various shapes, depending on whether it is fastened to the pocket 18 of the bottom frame 22, or fastened at various locations to the bottom panel 24 of the container 10, or if it is fastened to the web 14 of the container, or if it is just left unattached, or if the side wall 42 forms the entire compartment. The side walls 42 need not be fastened along their entire length to the web 14, and need not even extend all the way along the length of the container 10.

Indeed, the stiffener 38 and its associated stiffener pocket 40 can be fastened to the pocket 18 along the inclined portion of the spiral frame 12, in which case the opening for the compartment 36 would be inclined. If the stiffener is placed along the spiral portion of frame 12, the length of the stiffener could be slightly longer than discussed above without abutting the opposing side of the container because the opening is inclined.

Referring to FIG. 14, it is believed possible to rotate the stiffener 38 between the open and closed positions rather than bend the bowed stiffener through its chord. The stiffener 38 forms a curved member preferably conforming to the curvature of the adjacent portion of the frame 12, 20, and 22. If the ends of the stiffener pocket 40 allow the stiffener to rotate or twist about half a turn (about 180°) then the stiffener 38 can rotate from a first position adjacent the frame 12 (or 20, 22) to close the opening to the compartment 36, a position away from the frame 12 (or 20, 22) in order to open the compartment 36. The stiffener 38 need not bend during rotation and thus can be of a stiffer material that does not bend. The rotation is generally about the chord extending between the ends of the stiffener. If the stiffener 38 rotates, preferably it still has a rectangular configuration in order to help maintain the open position. If the rotating configuration is used, then there may be some need to have the side wall 42 made of sufficiently stiff material so that gravity does not cause the weight of the stiffener 38 to swing the stiffener downward toward the bottom panel 24 and alongside the web 14 and thus narrow the opening to the compartment. A stiffener 38 is thus preferably made of material sufficiently light such that the weight of the stiffener does not twist the stiffener pocket downward to substantially close the opening to the compartment 36 when the stiffener is in the second, open position as compared to the first position adjacent the frame 20 which closes access to the compartment.

The material for the web 14 and side walls 42 can vary, but should be flexible enough to allow the frame to collapse and expand. Open mesh materials are preferred for laundry or washing uses. Nylon mesh is believed desirable for use as hampers. Plastic coated or elastomer coated mesh is believed desirable for uses in a shower. Solid sheets of material are believed desirable for more heavy duty applications. Canvas or thick sheets of plastic or other reinforced plastics are believed desirable for heavy duty applications.

The frame 12 is typically made of spring steel, but could be made of plastic or other materials. The frame 12 is preferably contained in pocket 18 and the web 14 is connected to the pocket by sewing, adhesives, rivets, hook and loop fasteners or other mechanisms. In FIGS. 11a-11c, fastening lines are indicated for sewing the pockets 19, 40, to the web 14. The connection is preferably permanent. But the web 14 could be connected directly to the frame 12, as by adhesives, rivets, clamps, or other direct connection mechanisms. The bottom panel 24 is connected to the pocket 18 around bottom frame 22 the same way, or alternatively connected directly to the bottom frame 22 as described. The side wall 42 is connected to the stiffener preferably using the pocket 40, but could be directly connected to the stiffener using fastening mechanisms disclosed herein or known to those skilled in the art or developed in the future. The stiffener 38 and its stiffener pocket 40 are sewn, glued, riveted, or otherwise fastened together in a way sufficient to achieve the operation described herein. Hook and loop fasteners extending along a length of the frame 12, 20, 22 or at opposing ends of the stiffener 38 are believed suitable for connecting the stiffener 38 and its stiffener pocket 40 to the container, but not desirable.

The stiffener 38 cooperates with one of the top or bottom frames 20, 22 or with the inclined spiral frame 12 to define an opening or entrance to compartment 36. That entrance is preferably unobstructed, but may be covered with a sheet of flexible material having a releasably closed access like a zippered opening or snap-closed opening. The stiffener 38 holds the entrance open or closed depending on the position of the stiffener, and does so against the force of gravity. The stiffener 38 is preferably held in slight compression in the open and closed positions, with the length of the stiffener being greater than the straight-line distance between the ends of the stiffener. The stiffener pockets 40 are fastened to the container 10 so the stiffener 38 is held in compression as it passes from the open to the closed position when moved in a plane orthogonal to the axis 16. The stiffener 38 is preferably continuously curved in a constant radius of curvature, but the stiffener could be curved in a non-uniform manner or it could have straight segments with sharper curves between the ends of the stiffener 38, or it could possibly comprise more than one stiffener along the same longitudinal axis and fastened tightly into stiffener pocket 40, and all these variations are referred to herein as curved stiffeners. Advantageously the curvature of the stiffener 38 conforms to the curvature of the frame 12, 20, 22 which supports the stiffener in the closed configuration.

The compartment 36 thus comprises a curved frame 12, 20, 22 to which is attached a web 14 of material which preferably, but optionally forms one wall of the compartment 36. The side wall 42 comprises a further wall of the compartment 36, with the bottom panel 24 optionally providing a further portion of the compartment. If desired the side wall 42 can comprise a bag which defines the entire compartment with the upper end of the compartment fastened to the stiffener 38 and to the container 10 (via frame 12, 20 or pocket 18 or web 14) adjacent the stiffener 38. In the illustrated embodiment with compartments placed around the entire periphery of the container 10 and a stiffener 38 located at the bottom of each compartment so the bottom of the side wall 42 is not fastened to the bottom panel 24 of the container, then the container will have two webs of material on its sides, one outer web from the web 14 of the container and one inner web from the side walls 42, with the compartments formed between these webs of material.

The stiffener 38 and curved portion of the frame 12, 20, 22 define the opening to the compartment 36, and by moving the stiffener 38 relative to the frame the compartment may be opened or closed. The stiffener 38 can be moved laterally and bent from a closed to an open position, or the stiffener can be rotated from the closed to the open position. A stiffener may optionally be provided at the bottom of the compartment 36 if it is desired to hold the bottom in an expanded configuration.

The stiffener 38 extends along a convex portion of frame 12, 20, 22 (relative to axis 16) and reverses the relative direction of curvature when it is in the second position defining an opening to the compartment 38. The frame 12 thus preferably curves outward from and around the longitudinal axis 16 in a convex manner. The frame 12 could have portions that are straight or that extend toward the axis 16 in a straight or concave manner, but for an interior compartment 36 the stiffener 38 curves outward (convex relative to axis 16) in the closed position and must fasten to portions of the frame that allow that position.

The compartments 36 are typically interior compartments. Bur referring to FIG. 15, the container 10 could have an exterior compartment if the frame 12, 20, 22 has a concave segment 48 extending inward toward axis 16 to form a concave recess in the exterior of the container. In that event the stiffener 38 would extend inward, toward the axis 16 in the closed position, and extend outward in the open position. In the depicted embodiment the stiffener 38 comprises two separate stiffeners joined sufficiently to have a stable position in the open and closed positions, but a single piece stiffener extending the entire length of the concave segment 48 is preferred.

For shipping the stiffeners 38 are preferably placed in the closed position adjacent one of the frames 12, 20, and 22. The stiffeners 38 could be left in the open position, but that is not preferred as they are more easily damaged. The container 10 is then compressed along longitudinal axis 16 until the top and bottom frames 20, 22 are close together and then those frames are restrained or releasably fastened together. Various tying or fastening mechanisms can be used, as mentioned earlier, and including hooks, cords, snaps, hook and loop fasteners, etc. The collapsed container is then preferably, but optionally placed into a bag or package for shipment or storage. For use, the collapsed container is removed from any packaging; the spiral frame 12 is then released by releasing the restraining mechanism and allowing the container 10 to expand. The stiffeners 38 are then moved from the closed position adjacent one of frames 12, 20, 22 to the open position for one or more of the compartments.

In the depicted embodiments the top frame 20 of the container 10 defines an open, unobstructed entrance. The top entrance to the container could be covered by a panel or sheet of material, like the bottom, except removably fastened to the frame 20 or its pocket or the web 14. Alternatively, articulated covers can be provided, such as shown in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,392,987 and 6,892,897, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference. A zippered cover is shown in U.S. Pat. No. 5,964,533, the entire contents of which is incorporated herein by reference.

The above description is given by way of example, and not limitation. Given the above disclosure, one skilled in the art could devise variations that are within the scope and spirit of the invention disclosed herein, including various ways of fastening the various parts of the container 10 together. Moreover, the compartment 36 and stiffener 38 are described for use with a collapsible container, but the compartment construction can be used with containers that are not expandable or compressible. Further, the various features of the embodiments disclosed herein can be used alone, or in varying combinations with each other and are not intended to be limited to the specific combination described herein. Thus, the scope of the claims is not to be limited by the illustrated embodiments.