Title:
CONTAINER
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A container assembly is provided having a first container having an interior volume defined by a confining end wall and circumferential side wall terminating at a male member containing an opening into said first container. A container segment is provided configured to be detachably coupled to the male member of the first container to extend the volume of the container assembly. The segment includes a substantially tubular side wall, one end of which terminates in a male member surrounding an opening, and terminating at a second and opposite end in a concentric recess surrounding an opening. The concentric recess in the one end of the container segment is configured to receive and form a fluid-tight seal with the male member extending from said first container when in the closed position. A cap or top member having a circumferential sidewall closed at one end and open at an opposite end is also provided. The cap is designed in a manner similar to that of the recess so that it can be readily adapted to close any male member extending from the first container or any container segment.



Inventors:
Smith, Michael S. (Allendale, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/836877
Publication Date:
02/14/2008
Filing Date:
08/10/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D1/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WALKER, NED ANDREW
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Oppenhuizen Law PLC (Grand Rapids, MI, US)
Claims:
1. A container assembly, comprising: a first container including an end wall, an upwardly extending circumferential side wall extending from a peripheral edge of said end wall and terminating at a rim encircling an opening in said first container; a substantially tubular container segment including a rim surrounding an opening at one end and terminating at a second and opposite end in a concentric recess surrounding an opening, said concentric recess including a seating surface configured to engage and form a fluid-tight seal with said rim extending from said first container; and a cap member having a circumferential sidewall closed at one end and open at an opposite end, said cap member further including a concentric recess terminating in a seating surface configured to engage and form a fluid-tight seal with one of said rim at one end of said container segment and said rim at an end of said first container.

2. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including an additional container segment including a substantially tubular body forming a circumferential side wall and open at a first end formed by a male member, and open at a second end formed by a female member, said female member configured to engage and form a fluid-tight seal with said rim at one end of said container segment.

3. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, wherein said rim includes an inverted U-shaped member.

4. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, wherein said rim includes an outer thread circumscribing an outer surface of said rim extending from said container member and said container segment.

5. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including an inner thread circumscribing an inner surface of said female member formed at a second end of said container segment member.

6. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including a sealing surface formed in said female member of said container segment member for abutting against and sealing an opening formed by said male member of said container member when said container segment member is interconnected to said container member.

7. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including a resilient seal disposed in said female member of said container segment member for conforming against and sealing an opening formed by said male member of said container member when said container segment member is interconnected to said container member.

8. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including a gasket disposed between said female member of said container segment member and said male member of said container member for forming a fluid-tight seal when said container segment member is interconnected to said container member.

9. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, further including a tamper resistant band covering a joint between said container member and said container segment member.

10. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment member have substantially similar outside diameters.

11. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment member have substantially similar inside diameters.

12. The container assembly as defined in claim 1, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment member have substantially dissimilar outside diameters.

13. A method for making a container assembly, comprising the steps of blow molding a first container having an end wall, an upwardly extending circumferential side wall extending from a peripheral edge of said end wall and terminating in a rim encircling an opening; blow molding a container segment including a substantially tubular circumferential side wall, one end of said tubular circumferential side wall terminating in a rim surrounding an opening, and terminating at a second and opposite end in a concentric recess surrounding an opening, said concentric recess including a seating surface configured to engage and form a fluid-tight seal with said rim extending from said first container; and molding a cap member having a circumferential sidewall closed at one end and open at an opposite end, said cap member further including a concentric recess including a seating surface configured to engage and form a fluid-tight seal with one of said rim at one end of said container segment and said rim at an end of said first container.

14. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including molding an outer thread circumscribing an outer surface of said rim extending from said container member and said container segment.

15. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including molding an inner thread about an inner surface of said female member formed at said second end of said container segment.

16. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including molding a seating surface in said concentric recess in said container segment for abutting against and sealing said opening formed by said male member of said container member when said container segment is interconnected to said container member.

17. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including depositing a resilient seal in said female member in said container segment for sealing against said rim at the end of said male member of said container member when said container segment is interconnected to said container member.

18. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including placing a gasket between said female member of said container segment and said male member of said container member for forming a fluid-tight seal when said container segment is interconnected to said container member.

19. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including forming a tamper resistant band over a joint between said container member and said container segment.

20. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment are molded such that each have substantially similar outside diameters.

21. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment are molded such that each have substantially similar inside diameters.

22. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, wherein said circumferential side wall of said container member and said container segment are molded such that each have dissimilar outside diameters.

23. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including molding said seating surface to extend entirely across and close an end of said container segment.

24. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, further including molding said seating surface in the form of an annular channel.

25. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, wherein said rim is formed in a profile of an inverted U-shape rim.

26. The method for making a container assembly as defined in claim 13, wherein said rim is formed in a substantially circular profile.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims priority from U.S. provisional patent application 60/837,403 filed Aug. 12, 2006, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention relates to containers in general, and particularly to containers where the volume may be changed, and more particularly to containers where the volume of the container may be changed by adding or removing segments.

2. Description of the Related Art

It is known that the freshness of food products is adversely affected by exposure to air. Depending upon the volume of air, oxidation can occur. Oxidation is a particular problem with processed food products that are consumed slowly, such as peanut butter, sauces, jellies and preserves. Such products are normally sold in jars that are not adapted to compensate for the exposure of the product to a volume of air trapped in a top of the container as product is removed from the container. It is therefore desirable to reduce air space as food product is removed from a container.

Containers having a variable internal volume are known in the art. A deformable corrugated dispensing container, exemplary of variable volume dispensing containers, is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,215,222. The dispensing container disclosed therein is designed to collapse as product is expelled under pressure. Collapsible containers are also known that are adapted to permit air space above food contents to be reduced. An example is described in Canadian Patent Application No. 2,160,344 laid open to public inspection on Oct. 27, 1994. This application describes a collapsible container with a cap. The container has a side wall designed to be collapsed by forcing the side wall downwardly as contents of the container are consumed in order to reduce the air space above the contents. The container is made of a resilient thermoplastic which permits the container to be repeatedly collapsed and expanded.

Disposable containers are known for food products. A variable volume and disposable container is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,626,250. The container structure includes a cylindrical side wall having a closed bottom and a plurality of side wall sections connected by tear strips to the container. The container is designed for semi-solid food products such as ice cream. As ice cream is consumed from the container the tear strips are removed. Removal of a tear strip causes perforations of the side wall to permit a section above the tear strip to be removed. The head space above the ice cream is hereby reduced. The container is made from paper board and is therefore unsuitable for liquids. Moreover, the lid does not provide a fluid tight seal, which is necessary for most food products sold in jars.

Another container containing removable sections is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,276,547. The container disclosed therein includes a cylindrical body closed at one end and a cylindrical side wall which is an integral but sectionalized structure. The sectionalized side wall includes at least a bottom section and a top section. More than one sectionalized section can be provided. Each of the sections has a top rim that may have a smaller diameter than the diameter of the cylindrical side wall. A shoulder provides a transition between the top rim and the side wall of the bottom section. A second shoulder provides a similar transition between the top rim and the side wall of the top section. A tear strip is integral with the top rim of the bottom section and a transition surface between the top section and the tear strip. Two grooves flank the tear strip to facilitate the removal thereof. A pull tab is provided to enable the tear strip to be easily gripped for removal. The container body is preferably molded from a thermoplastic material. Injection molds or blow molds may be used but blow molds are preferred.

The '547 patent also discloses a lid that may be used to seal the container as the sections are removed. The lid includes a circular top plate and a skirt that depends from a periphery of the top plate. The skirt has an internal diameter that is slightly larger than the diameter of the top rim, and an external diameter substantially equal to the diameter of the cylindrical side wall. An internal thread is provided on the inner surface of the skirt. A corresponding external thread is provided on the top rim of each section so that the lid may be closed in a fluid tight seal resulting from the abutment of the top plate of the lid against the top rim.

The known solutions for providing a variable volume container for perishable food products have not been widely accepted by consumers. There therefore still exists a need for a sturdy, fluid tight container that is both resealable and can be readily reduced in volume.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

This invention provides a variable-volume container for foodstuffs and other materials wherein the size of the container can be reduced or increased depending upon the container content. More particularly the container volume can be reduced as the volume of the contents are reduced, providing greater access to the contents.

According to one form of the invention, a variable-volume container includes a first container having a first volume formed by an end wall, a circumferential side wall extending upwardly from a peripheral edge of the end wall and terminating in an open second end. The open end is further defined by a male member having a mechanism for detachably retaining one of a top and a container segment. One or more container segments may be provided with the variable-volume container. According to one form of the invention, each container segment includes a substantially tubular body open at opposite ends. One end of the tubular body is formed into a male member substantially identical to the male member formed on the first container. The opposite end of the container segment is formed into a female member specifically adapted to engage and seal the male member contained on the first container. One or more container segments may be interconnected in a serial fashion to change the volume of the container. The cap used for closing the variable-volume container is universal working with any male member.

According to another form of the invention, a container assembly is provided that includes an outer thread on an outer surface of the male member formed on the first container and on each container segment member. In a similar fashion, an inner thread circumscribes an inner surface of the female member formed at the opposite end of the container segment member.

In yet another form of the invention, a variable-volume container includes a sealing surface formed by one of the male member and the female member so that when interconnected together a fluid-tight seal is formed preventing fluids from entering and/or leaving the interior volume. A variety of sealing surfaces are contemplated to be adapted for the invention, including, but not limited to a resilient seal disposed in the female member of said container segment for conforming against and sealing against the rim of the male member when the container segment is coupled to the first container. In the alternative it is contemplated that a similar resilient material may be applied to the rim of the male member which conforms to a seating surface in the female member when closed together. Other sealing surfaces may be selected from the group of gaskets, o-rings, tapes, foams, bladders or other known or developed sealing structures disposed between said female member of said container segment member and said male member of said container member for forming a fluid-tight seal when said container segment member is interconnected to said container member.

According to yet another form of the invention, external measures may be applied to indicate when the connection between the first container and the container segment is broken, or between the cap and any container segment. One method for providing that security is a tamper resistant band or tape covering any joint between the first container and a container segment. A similar method may be in place when new between the cap and the adjacent structure.

In yet another form of the invention, it is envisioned that the circumferential side wall of the first container member and any container segment may be substantially similar in terms of interior and exterior diameters. It is also envisioned that the exterior diameters may also be dissimilar depending upon the image to be conveyed to the consumer. Regardless of the diameters of the different container segments and first container, an important aspect of the invention is that the cap universally fit and seals the container volume defined by any combination of segments or containers.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING FIGURES

FIG. 1 is an elevation view of one embodiment of a variable or adjustable volume container assembly comprising the invention;

FIG. 2 is an exploded cross-sectional view of the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is an exploded cross-sectional view of another configuration of the variable or adjustable volume container assembly comprising the invention and shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is an elevation cross-sectional view of another embodiment of a variable or adjustable volume container assembly comprising the invention;

FIG. 5 is an exploded cross-sectional view of the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 6 is an exploded cross-sectional view of another configuration of the variable or adjustable volume container assembly comprising the invention and shown in FIG. 5;

FIG. 7 is an exploded cross-sectional view of yet another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 8 is an elevation cross-sectional view of the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 7;

FIG. 9 is an exploded cross-sectional view of yet another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 10 is an elevation cross-sectional view of the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 9;

FIG. 11 is a fragmentary cross-section view of one embodiment of a rim used in connection with the invention; and

FIG. 12 is a fragmentary cross-section view of the rim shown in FIG. 11 sealed by a seating surface.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DIFFERENT EMBODIMENTS

For purposes of description only, the terms “upper,” “lower,” “right,” “left,” “rear,” “front,” “vertical,” “horizontal,” and derivatives thereof shall relate to the invention as oriented in FIG. 1. However, it is to be understood that the invention may assume various alternative orientations and step sequences, except where expressly specified to the contrary. It is also to be understood that the specific devices and processes illustrated in the attached drawings and described in the following specification are simply exemplary embodiments of the inventive concepts defined in the appended claims. Specific dimensions and other physical characteristics relating to the embodiments disclosed herein are not to be considered as limiting, unless the claims expressly state otherwise.

With reference to FIG. 1, an adjustable container assembly 12 is depicted including a first or lower container 14 of predetermined volume. The volume of the first or lower container 14 may be increased by one or more container segments 16 coupled to the first or lower container 14. The interior volume contained within the walls 18 of the first container 14 and/or wall 20 when extended by the container segments 16 is designed to be closed by a universal cap or top 22.

The first or lower container 14 includes an end or bottom wall 24 of predetermined diameter, size or footprint. Extending from the periphery of the end or bottom wall 24 is the sidewall 18 briefly mentioned above and extending therefrom in a predetermined configuration in terms of geometric shape, and dimension to form an open end 26 opposite end or bottom wall 24. The upper or open end 26 is preferably defined by a rim of predetermined shape and dimension, below which the sidewall forms a male member or nipple 30. In one embodiment it is preferred that one or more outer threads 32 spiral around the nipple 30 a predetermined distance for reasons that will become readily apparent below.

Detachably interconnected to the male member or nipple 30 of the first or lower container 14 is one of a container segment 16 or the top or cap 22 briefly mentioned above. With respect to the container segment 16, each is preferably in a three-dimensional form similar to that of the first or lower container 14 as it is contemplated that each segment 16 continues the form of the container 12 to increase the volume. Regardless of the three-dimensional shape, each container segment generally includes a circumferential sidewall 20 open at opposite ends 34 and 36. In a preferred embodiment, one end such as end 34 includes a concentric cavity or recess 38 extending axially into the segment from the end 34 in a shape and dimension discussed in greater detail below. In one embodiment, it is preferred that the interior surface 40 of the sidewall 20 forming the recess or cavity 38 comprise one or more internal threads 42 wounds in a helical fashion and in a direction where the internal threads 42 engage in appropriate alignment with the outer threads 32 extending around the nipple 30 on the first or lower container. Indeed, as will become readily apparent, whatever connection mechanism adapted in the container 12 is uniform throughout the assembly to provide the greatest range of interchangeability.

Similar to that depicted with regard to the lower or first container, the circumferential sidewall 20 of the container segment 16 extends from the first end 34 towards the opposite end 36 in a manner complimentary to the overall shape of the container 12, and transitions to form a male member or nipple 44, which is for all intents and purposes, substantially identical in size and shape to the male member or nipple 30 formed at the rim 38 of the first or lower container 14. The reason for the identical nipples 30 and 44 is to provide uniformity in adaptability so that one top or cap 22 can be used to close the container regardless of the size of the volume.

Referring back to FIGS. 1 and 2, a number of sealing arrangements may be adapted to ensure that no seepage of the container contents occurs. The sealing methods and structures are intended to be sufficient to prevent leakage of liquids across the coupling between the first container and a container segment, as well as any serially arranged segments. The sealing methods and structures would also be instrumental to ensure that any coupling can be unsealed to permit access to the container interior.

Numerous sealing methods may be used to accomplish the goals of the invention, including, but not limited to the use of foam strips or tape, gaskets and o-rings, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) tape, silicon, or other resilient materials or process could be used. For example, referring to FIGS. 1 and 2, it is contemplated that the recess 38 defined by inner wall 40 terminates in a shoulder 44 of predetermined thickness, length and rigidity to define a mating surface 46 adapted to engage the rim 28 of any male member or nipple 30. The mating surface may be smooth to form a seat with the rim 28. Alternatively the mating surface act as a foundation for one or more of the sealing materials described above. One example contemplated in the invention is that mating surface 46 receive a bead or ribbon of a resilient material 48 adapted to engage the upper rim or edge 28 of the male member or nipple 30 and form a fluid-tight seal. Alternative types of seals may also be used at other locations including over the threads as well as the outer base below the threaded areas. Tapes have been found to be most effective for providing seals over the threaded coupling while o-rings have been found to be effective to provide a seal at the bases of the threaded zones. Alternatively a gasket or o-ring made of a similarly resilient material may be disposed between the upper end or rim 28 of the male member 30 and the mating surface 46 of the shoulder 44 to provide a sealing function. In yet another form, the gasket or o-ring material may be positioned elsewhere between the lower end of the nipple or male member 30 prior to transitioning to the circumferential sidewall 18, and the lower end or bottom end of the container segment 16. If desired, both locations described above could contain a seal for providing redundant sealing of the connection.

Additional sealing methods may form a part of the invention. These include a product label such as, but not limited to, a roll-fed wrap-around shrinkable label or sleeve. This material not only helps in labeling of the item, but because of its shrinkable character, can be used to help address and potentially solve the aforementioned sealing concerns. Such shrink-type labels or sleeves may extend across and interconnect the first or lower container with any segment or cap. Indeed it is contemplated that this same shrink-type material could be extended to include the cap or top 22 attached to the container when sold. Such shrink-type materials may also serve to ensure that the first or lower container 14, as well as the container segment(s) 16 and top 22 stay together and provide a “safety seal” function to show if the product has been tampered. Such a safety seal would provide confidence about the safety of the contents until the seal is broken by the user. Modifications to such a shrink-type material include indicia or small perforations about the circumference at positions proximate to the joints between the lower container 14 and the first segment 16 and any subsequent segment thereafter.

Disposed at the uppermost end of the container assembly 12 is a cap or top member 22. In its most basic form, the cap member has a circumferential wall 52 open at its lowermost end 54 and closed at the opposite or upper end 56 by an end wall 58. Defined about the interior surface 60 of the circumferential wall is an inner thread 62 of a shape and helical turn adapted to engage each of the outer threads 32 defined about the exterior of the male members or nipples 30. Moreover, at a point intermediate the lowermost end 54 and the end wall 58 it is preferred that a shoulder or sealing surface 64 be provided where, just as in the case of the container segment described above, the upper end or rim 28 of each male member or nipple 30 is engaged and closed tightly against the sealing surface 64. Similar to that described above, the sealing surface 64 may be substantially smooth so that when abutting the rim 28 of the male member or nipple 30, a tight seal is formed. Alternatively, the sealing surface 64 may include a flexible bead of material 66 which deforms when compressed against the rim 28 or upper end of each male member or nipple 30 to prevent fluids (liquid or gas) from passing there through. In yet another form, a gasket or o-ring may be disposed to rest along the sealing surface 64 or elsewhere between the top and male member or nipple to form a suitable seal.

In the embodiment described above, a single lower container 14 and a single container segment 16 is described. However, it should be readily apparent that two or more container segments 16 may be interconnected together in series to make the container assembly 12 of predetermined length. As the contents of the container assembly 12 are used, the container segments may be removed making it easier for the end user to access the contents without having to pass through the substantially empty container segment members 16.

According to another aspect of the invention, it is contemplated that the lower container member 14 and each of the container segments 16 utilized in the invention be made from the same or compatible material. For example, in a preferred embodiment of the invention it is contemplated that polyethylene teraphthalate (also known as PET) and its variant PETE, well-known thermoplastics used in the packaging industry today, may be used to make the containers. The advantage of using these materials is that they are a renewable resource through recycling. Although PET and similar materials are the preferred material, other materials may also be used so long as they are capable of providing a tight joint capable of forming a seal, or supporting a sealing material. Other non-polymeric materials may also be used including, but not limited to, earthen materials such as glass or metal.

Referring to FIGS. 4 through 6, another embodiment of the invention includes a multi-chamber container 70 comprising an upper member 72 having a threaded lower portion 74 that is configured to threadably engage a threaded portion 76 of a lower member 78. A cap or cover 80 includes threads 82 that are configured to engage threads 84 of the upper member 72 to selectively close an opening 86. An optional wall 88 in the upper member 72 closes opening 90 in the lower member 78 when threads 76 of the lower member 78 engage threads 74 of the upper member 72. The upper container or member 72 and the lower member 78 may be made of glass, plastic, resin or other suitable material. The container 70 includes an upper chamber 92 and a lower chamber 94. If upper container member 72 is removed, the opening 90 in the lower container member 78 can be sealed with a wall 96 in the compatible cap or cover 82. The bottom wall 98 in the lower container member 78 effectively seals the bottom of the lower chamber 94.

In use, each of the cavities 92 and 94 may contain the same or different ingredients. For example, the upper cavity 92 may contain a first product or mixture such as peanut butter and the lower cavity 94 may hold a second product or mixture such as jam or jelly. That way, the consumer can simply unscrew the upper container member 72 from the lower container member 78, and remove the cap or cover 80 to provide access to the different type of food products or other material within the different cavities 92 and 94. Also, it will be readily apparent that the same food stuffs or other materials could be contained in both the upper cavity 92 and the lower cavity 94. Thus, if the material in one cavity 92 is consumed or spoiled, the contents in the other cavity 94 remains covered and preserved. Once the contents of the upper container member 72 have been fully consumed or no longer desired, the upper member may be removed and disposed of, recycled, or reused.

According to a preferred method of manufacturing the different components 14, 16 and 22, it is contemplated that the blow-trim production process is the preferred method. This process saves resin, energy and cycle time. It allows containers having a wide-mouth to be produced from a narrow neck preform, eliminating the need for expensive injection mold tooling costs. The blow-trim production method is a well known method and will not be described in any great detail herein as it is contemplated that those in the industry are familiar with the process. Details of the process can be found in U.S. Pat. No. 7,226,560, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

The different embodiments described above mention the use of mating threads for joining the first or lower container to the container segments. Although it is contemplated that threaded joints are perhaps the preferred method for detachably interconnecting the different components, it is further contemplated that other means or methods may be used, including, but not limited to snap fit arrangement wherein the male member or nipple includes a ridge or barbed tab which is received within a channel or similar recess in the recess of the container segment to firmly lock the nipple with respect to the container segment. The coupling may be broken with the exertion of a substantial force to cause the barbed end of the nipple from the channel in the recess. With the use of the built-in sealing offered by the snap-fit arrangement, a solid fluid-tight seal should be achieved. Yet another method may include ultrasonic welding of the end of the rim of the male member to a thin area within the base of a container segment. The weld could be sufficiently strong to keep the two components together until sufficient force is exerted, breaking the weld and allowing the two components to be separated. Such a coupling would be destroyed after the seal was broken. Yet another form of coupling the first or lower container to the adjoining container segment may be by using a co-extruded strip of material extending from one of the container or the container segment and welded to the opposite structure. Provision could be made by way of a tear strip or other suitable perforated coupling to remove a segment of the co-extruded strip, breaking the coupling between the two components. Such strips have been often been applied outboard of any seal or gasket to keep the contents from the ambient air or atmosphere.

FIGS. 7-8 illustrate yet another embodiment of a container 100 keeping in accordance with the objects of the invention. The container 100 is preferably molded from a flexible plastic material such as PET or PETE and has a circular side wall 106 which at its lower end merges into a bottom wall 104 that completely closes the lower end of the lower or first container 102. The bottom wall 104 is formed integral with the side wall 106 and accordingly rigidifies the lower end of the side wall 106, so that the side wall 106 is not easily distorted at its lower end. The side wall 106 at its upper end is directed inwardly to form a neck 108 and outwardly at its rim 110 in the form of a substantially inverted U-shaped cross section, C-shaped cross section, or substantially circular cross section. See FIGS. 11 and 12. Regardless of the actual shape, it is preferred that a portion of the rim 110 project radially outwardly beyond the neck 108.

Above the lower container 102 and adapted to be coupled to the rim 110 is a container segment 112 also having a tubular sidewall 114 having a lower end 116 and an upper end 118. The lower end 116 of the container segment 112 is open and has a concentric recess 120 having an internal profile substantially mirroring that of the neck 108 and rim 110. In particular, the recess 120 includes an annular concave channel 122 forming a seating surface which is adapted to receive and capture the inverted U-shaped or C-shaped rim 110 at the top of the lower container 100 similar to that shown in FIG. 11. When engaged, the rim 110 and the annular concave channel 122 forming the seating surface, provide a fluid-tight seal between the two components. The sidewall 114 of the container segment transitions to a neck structure 124 at the opposite or upper end 118 of the container segment 112 substantially identical in terms of shape and profile to that of the neck portion 108 in the lower container 102 for reasons consistent with this invention.

The container 100, and particularly the container segment 112 and the lower or first container 102 are adapted to be closed by a universal lid or top 130. The top 130 includes a tubular sidewall 132 closed at an upper end by an end wall 134. The opposite end of the lid 130 forms a recess including an inner sidewall 136 of a shape and form substantially identical to that of the concentric recess formed in the container segment 112. See FIG. 12. Just as in the container segment 112, the lid 130 includes a concentric annular channel 138 adapted to receive and capture the rim 110 at the top of container segment 112 or the lower or first container 102. The annular channel 138 forms a seating surface against which the inverted U-shaped rim engages to form a fluid-tight seal.

The snap-fit coupling of the container segment 112 to the lower or first container 102 and the top 130 described above may be protected by a tamper-evident seal or band 124. It is therefore contemplated that the joint between the lower container 102 and the container segment 112 and the joint between the top 130 and the segment 112 may receive an appropriate film, strip, tape or other material 124 of sufficient strength that is destroyed or provides other indicia to indicate that the lower container 102 may have become separated from the container segment 112. Such security strips may include polyethylene tape sonically sealed against the container, bonded to the container by an adhesive, or constitute an integral portion of the lower container and container segment. In the latter case, it is contemplated that a skin of polyethylene or other material may be molded over the joint designed so that it may be stripped away, exposing the connection.

It is also contemplated that the cap or top 130, as well as the opening between the rim 110 and the concentric recess 120 may be sealed. In one embodiment a seal membrane 140 may be formed from a laminate composed of a thin metal foil 142 and an insulating layer 144 are bonded together. The foil may be aluminum having a thickness of between 0.0005 and 0.030 inch, while the insulating layer should be at least 0.005 inch thick. The insulating layer should be able to withstand temperatures slightly in excess of the melting temperature for the material from which the container 100 is formed and in the case of polyethylene that temperature is about 350 degrees F. The foil layer is provided on its opposite face with a coating 146 of the same material as that from which the container 100 is made, which in most cases is polyethylene. That coating exists at least near the periphery of the foil layer 142. The seal membrane 140 fits within the lid with insulating layer 144 being presented toward rim 110. Thus, the foil layer 142 is presented downwardly and its coating will bear against the container rim 110 when the lid 130 is installed on the container 100.

The lid 130 may be applied to the container 100 merely by forcing it over the rim 110. More specifically, the lid 130 is placed loosely over the rim 110 of the container 100 or container segment 112 and with a downwardly directed force applied to the lid 130 along an annular pressure surface, causes the rim to compress and the sidewall 132 to ride over the rim 110 and expand. The sidewall 132 may move over the rim 110 until the rim resides or rest in the groove or channel or until the lid 130 bottoms out. When the lid is so disposed, the concentric annular groove or channel may be located immediately surrounding the rim 110, thus forming a fluid tight seat and securing the lid 130 to the container 100. In this condition, the seal membrane 140 is interposed between the rim 110 on the container 100 and the lid 130 when the product is produced to preserve the contents.

FIGS. 9-10 illustrate yet another embodiment of the invention 150 having separate containers 152 and 154. The lower or first container 152 includes a tubular sidewall 156 transitioning to an integral bottom wall 158 at one end, and a neck portion 160 at an upper end. The upper end of the neck 108 terminated in a rim 162 in the form of an inverted U-shape, C-shape, or substantially circular-shaped configuration similar to that described above in FIGS. 7 and 8 and shown in FIGS. 11 and 12. Thus, the rim 160 projects radially beyond the neck portion 160.

Above the lower container 152 and adapted to be coupled to the rim 162 is a second container 154 also having a tubular sidewall 166 having a lower end 168 and an upper end 170. The lower end 168 of the container 154 contains a concentric recess 172 closed at its upper end by a wall 174. The recess 172 further includes an annular channel 176 formed in the inner side wall of the recess adapted to capture and retain the rim 162 of the lower container 152. The sidewall 166 of the upper or second container 154 transitions to a neck structure 178 substantially identical to the neck 160 of the lower container. The neck structure 178 terminates in an outwardly extending inverted U-shaped, C-shaped, or substantially circular-shaped rim 180 substantially similar in shape to the rim described above formed at the upper end of the lower container 152.

In embodiment 150, it is contemplated that the lower container 152 will be closed by the upper container 154. A universal top similar to that described above may be closed by the universal top similar to that described above with regard to FIGS. 7 and 8. As the contents of the upper container 154 are consumed, the container may be disposed of and the universal lid may be used to close the lower container 152. Labels, tapes, films, and other security measures may be taken to indicate that the joint between container 152 and container 154 has been broken and evidence possible tampering. A sealing membrane substantially identical to that described above, or other suitable sealing mechanism may be used between container 152 and container 154 to seal the contents of the respective containers.

The different embodiments of the invention provided above have been described with having a variety of closures, caps or tops. The embodiments are simply exemplary and other forms of lids, tops or closures that can be repeated used on one or more of the containers or container segments are considered within the scope of the invention. The advantages offered by the present invention allow for more creative combinations of articles and the distribution of products. In the embodiment where multiple compartments are offered complimentary products may be sold such as mayonnaise and mustard, different types of relish (dill and sweet), or olives and cocktail olives. Alternatively two of the same products could be offered in the different containers, keeping one fresh while the other is being used. Another advantage offered by the instant invention is that the container increases the efficient use of storage space since two containers are stored within the foot print area of a single container. The coupling of the two containers also ensures that the products will stay one above the other within the storage area, for it is not uncommon for stacked products to topple when accessed.

It is further contemplated that the invention may be manufactured in a number of ways. First it is contemplated that the container assembly may be made using the blow-trim method briefly mentioned above. However, different from previous methods it is considered probable that the lower or first container or lower member 14, 78, 102, or 152 may be blow-molded from PET or PETE. This first step permits the manufacturer to close the end wall and to form the upper neck portion or male member as well as the type of closure mechanism. In a second step the container segment may be molded directly over the end of the lower container or member so that the coupling mechanism may be molded directly to match against the neck portion. By directly molding the container segment over the end or nipple of the lower container, it is envisioned that a fluid-tight seal between the lower container and the container segment could be formed at the time of molding, keeping costs and dwell time to a minimum. The process could be repeated until the desired number of container segments are formed one above the other to form the container.

It is also envisioned that the invention may be manufactured using conventional injection molding techniques. The lower container or member may be formed separately or simultaneously with the container segments, depending in large part upon the injection molding-tool configuration. Once the lower container or member and the container segment(s) or upper members are sufficiently rigid, they may be moved to another station where a different resin or polymer may be injection molded over the predetermined locations so that when the lower contain or member is coupled to a container segment or upper member, a seal is formed about the rim. In one embodiment briefly mentioned above, it is envisioned that a bead of a different resin of sufficiently different hardness be deposited along one of the rim or the seating surface 46 so that when the rim is threaded tight against the seating surface the rim is enveloped by the bead and closed off.

The above description is considered that of the preferred embodiments only. Modifications of the invention will occur to those skilled in the art and to those who make or use the invention. Therefore, it is understood that the embodiments shown in the drawings and described above are merely for illustrative purposes and not intended to limit the scope of the invention, which is defined by the following claims as interpreted according to the principles of patent law, including the doctrine of equivalents. The embodiments of the invention in which an exclusive property or privilege is claimed are defined below.