Title:
Tarpaulin tensioners
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Tensioners useful for supporting and tensioning tarps and the like from below are described, as are systems and kits that include such tensioners. Such articles are useful in variety of contexts, including boating, camping, and storage of various items.



Inventors:
Lee, Mary E. (Solana Beach, CA, US)
Lee, Christopher D. (Solana Beach, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/599939
Publication Date:
05/15/2008
Filing Date:
11/14/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B61D45/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
HERRING, BRENT W
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Mary and Christopher Lee (Yuma, AZ, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A tarpaulin tensioner, comprising a tarpaulin support element connected to a shaft receptacle, wherein the tarpaulin support element is non-planar and configured to support and tension a tarpaulin when positioned below and in supportive association with the tarpaulin.

2. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1, wherein the tarpaulin support element, in plan view, comprises a geometric shape.

3. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 2, wherein the geometric shape is selected from the group consisting of a circle and a polygon.

4. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 3, wherein the geometric shape is selected from the group consisting of a polygon wherein each side is of substantially equal length and a polygon wherein at least one side is of a length that substantially differs from the length of at least one of the other sides of the polygon.

5. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 3, wherein the geometric shape is selected from the group consisting of a triangle, a rectangle (optionally a square), a pentagon, a hexagon, a heptagon, and an octagon.

6. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1, wherein the tarpaulin support element, in side cross-section view, comprises a geometric shape that appears as a continuous curve.

7. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1, wherein the tarpaulin support element, in side cross-section view, comprises a plurality of connected geometric shapes.

8. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 7, wherein a central portion of the tarpaulin support element, in side cross-section view, comprises a continuous curve.

9. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 8, wherein at least a perimeter part of the central portion is attached to a substantially flat element, wherein the substantially planar element is configured, along with the central portion, to contact an underside of a tarpaulin when supportively associated therewith.

10. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1, wherein the shaft receptacle is configured to detachably receive a connector portion of a shaft.

11. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 10, wherein the shaft receptacle is a receiver that comprises a bore configured to detachably receive a distal end of a shaft.

12. A tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 11, wherein the bore is threaded.

13. A system, comprising a tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1 and a shaft mated to the shaft receptacle.

14. A kit comprising a comprising a tarpaulin tensioner according to claim 1 and a shaft configured to mate to the shaft receptacle.

15. A kit according to claim 14 further comprising a tarpaulin.

16. A kit according to claim 14, wherein the shaft is a telescoping shaft.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to articles useful to support and tension tarps and the like.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Introduction.

The following description includes information that may be useful in understanding the present invention. It is not an admission that any of the information provided herein, or any publication specifically or implicitly referenced herein, is prior art, or even particularly relevant, to the presently claimed invention.

2. Background

Over time, many different types of covers have been developed, for numerous applications. Even so, the need remains for adequate supports to support and tension tarps and other covers. This invention addresses this need.

3. Definitions

Before describing the instant invention in detail, several terms used in the context of the present invention will be defined. In addition to these terms, others are defined elsewhere in the specification, as necessary. Unless otherwise expressly defined herein, terms of art used in this specification will have their art-recognized meanings.

The term “configured” and the like refer to being adapted, shaped, or otherwise provided for the stated purpose.

The term “connected” or “mated” and the like mean a physical association. The connection may be permanent or temporary. Temporary connections include those in which the connected elements can be readily detached, such as by unscrewing threaded elements, disengaging a retaining clip or pin, etc. Thus, “detachably” shall be understood to mean that the elements that are detachable may be disconnected from each other without damage to the individual elements.

The term “continuous” means uninterrupted. For example, a “continuous curve” refers to an element having a curved region that is not interrupted by an uncurved portion; however, it does not mean that the curve has the same degree or type of curvature over its length.

“Flat” refers to an uncurved portion, but it does not necessarily mean “planar” (meaning within the same plane). For example, the outer surface of a cone may be referred to as being “flat”. A “non-planar” surface is one that is not substantially planar.

A “patentable” composition, process, machine, or article of manufacture according to the invention means that the subject matter satisfies all statutory requirements for patentability at the time the analysis is performed. For example, with regard to novelty, non-obviousness, or the like, if later investigation reveals that one or more claims encompass one or more embodiments that would negate novelty, non-obviousness, etc., the claim(s), being limited by definition to “patentable” embodiments, specifically exclude the unpatentable embodiment(s). Also, the claims appended hereto are to be interpreted both to provide the broadest reasonable scope, as well as to preserve their validity. Furthermore, the claims are to be interpreted in a way that (1) preserves their validity and (2) provides the broadest reasonable interpretation under the circumstances, if one or more of the statutory requirements for patentability are amended or if the standards change for assessing whether a particular statutory requirement for patentability is satisfied from the time this application is filed or issues as a patent to a time the validity of one or more of the appended claims is questioned.

A “plurality” means more than one.

The term “substantially” means more than about eighty percent (80%), preferably more than about ninety percent (90%), and even more preferably, more than about ninety-five percent (95%). Thus, two items “substantially differ” when they differ by more than about 5% in terms of the particular context.

A “supportive association” is an association where one item supports at least one other item.

A “tarpaulin” or “tarp” refers to any fabric or other flexible material useful for covering one or more other items. Preferably, tarps are covers made of waterproof or water-resistant material(s).

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The object of this invention is to provide patentable tarpaulin tensioners that can be used to support and tension tarpaulins.

Thus, one aspect of the invention relates to patentable tarpaulin tensioners. Such articles comprise a tarpaulin support element connected to a shaft receptacle. In general, the tarpaulin support element is non-planar and configured to support and tension a tarpaulin when it is positioned below a tarp in a supportive manner. By being non-planar, the tarpaulin support element better distributes tensioning force to a tarp. Preferably, the distal edge(s) of the tarpaulin support element do not contact the tarp when the tarpaulin support element and tarp are in contact in the desired supportive position.

Tarpaulin support elements can be configured in any suitable shape, including, in plan view, geometric shapes such as circles and polygons (e.g., triangles, quadrangles (including rectangles and squares), pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, octagons, and polygons having greater numbers of sides, such as 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, or 15 or more sides). As those in the art will appreciate, polygons may have sides of substantially equal length, as well as some or all sides of differing lengths. In cross-section, a tarpaulin support element can exhibit any substantially non-planar shape, including geometric shapes such as curves, a plurality of linear elements, as well as combinations of linear and non-linear shapes. A particularly preferred shape is a continuous curve, particularly one wherein the distal edges(s) of the tarpaulin support element do not engage a tarp when the support element is positioned below the tarp in a supportive manner.

The particular size and shape of a tarpaulin support element, as well as the material it is made from the manner in which it is made, will depend on many factors, including the intended application.

The shaft receptacle of a tarpaulin tensioner of the invention is preferably configured to detachably receive a connector portion of a shaft. Any type of detachable element can be employed, with threaded or splined receivers and spring-loaded retaining elements being particularly preferred. In general, the shaft receptacle is shaped to detachably receive the distal end of a shaft. The distal end of the shaft is opposite the proximal end, which is designed to engage the surface above which the tarp is to be supported.

A related aspect of the invention concerns kits that include at least one tarpaulin tensioner according to the invention and at least one shaft designed to engage a shaft receptacle. Shafts of adjustable lengths, such as telescoping shafts, are particularly preferred. Such kits may further include other components, including one or more tarps, instructions, etc., and they may be packaged in suitable containers for shipping, storage, and/or marketing. When assembled, a tarpaulin tensioner and shaft comprise a system o assembly, and can be used support and tension tarps for various purposes, including to provide shelter from the elements, to reduce accumulation of dust and other particulates on items stored under the tarp, etc.

Other features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following drawings, detailed description, and appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows three different representative configurations for a tensioner according to the invention, labeled (a), (b), and (c).

FIG. 2 shows a tensioner as depicted in FIG. 1(a) deployed to support and tension a tarp positioned above a surface.

FIG. 3 shows four different representative embodiments for an article according to the invention, labeled (a), (c), (d), and (e). Panel (b) is a top-down view of the article illustrated in panel (a).

FIG. 4 shows a preferred embodiment of the invention, wherein the article of the invention is oriented as a bowl mounted on a support shaft. As illustrated, the system also includes a dish associated with the bowl.

As those in the art will appreciate, the following detailed description describes certain preferred embodiments of the invention in detail, and is thus only representative and does not depict the actual scope of the invention. Before describing the present invention in detail, it is understood that the invention is not limited to the particular aspects and embodiments described, as these may vary. It is also to be understood that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to limit the scope of the invention defined by the appended claims.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED REPRESENTATIVE EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 1 illustrates three preferred embodiments of tarpaulin tensioners (100) according to the invention. In each of panels (a), (b), and (c), the tarpaulin support element (101) has two surfaces, a tarp-facing surface (102) and an inner surface (104) opposite the tarp-facing surface. The same elements appear in the embodiment shown in FIG. 2 (which effectively corresponds to the embodiment in FIG. 1(a)). In these embodiments, the shaft receptacle (106) is integral with the tarpaulin support element (101) to form the tarpaulin tensioner (100), and in each of the illustrated embodiments protrudes from the region adjacent to the central portion of the inner surface (104) of the tarpaulin support element. As shown in FIG. 2, the shaft receptacle (106) has a bore (108) adapted to matingly accept the distal end (hatched region) of the support shaft (110). Here, this association is detachable, although the invention includes embodiments wherein the shaft is permanently attached, or even formed with, the elements of the tarpaulin tensioner.

In FIG. 2, an assembled tarpaulin tensioner (100) is shown in supportive association with a tarp (120). As can be seen in this embodiment, a portion of the tarp-facing surface (102) of the tarpaulin tensioner (100) is associated with the tarp's inner surface. After positioning the tarpaulin tensioner (100) under the tarp and engaging the base (112) of the shaft with the surface (130) above which the tarp (120) is to be positioned (e.g., a portion of a boat deck), as well as connecting eyes (122) to the fasteners (132) connected to the surface (130), the tarp can protect the covered portion of the surface (130)(or items, people, etc. positioned thereon) from, for example, exposure to the elements.

FIG. 3 illustrates several embodiments of the invention wherein the tarpaulin tensioner (100) is manufactured such that in one orientation is may be used as a tarp tensioner (see FIGS. 3(a) and (b)), whereas in another orientation (i.e., when the article is inverted), it can be used as a bowl. In the bowl configuration (see, e.g., FIG. 3(c)), it can be used, for example, to hold ice and drink containers (e.g., cans of soft drinks, alcoholic beverages such as beer, etc.). In a preferred example of such an embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 3(a) and 3(c), the tarpaulin tensioner (100) contains two bores (132 and 134) in the shaft receptacle (136) for associating the article (100) with a support shaft (not shown) in either the tensioner or bowl configuration (panels (a) and (c), respectively). In another embodiment, as depicted in FIG. 3(d), the article contains a bore (140) extending completely through the shaft receptacle (142) with a flange (144) disposed within the bore (140) such that it can engage the upper edge of a support shaft to prevent the article from sliding down the shaft used to support the article (100) above a surface (e.g., a boat deck, a floor, the ground, etc.). In an alternative embodiment, as shown in FIG. 3(e), the shaft receptacle (150) may contain opposed tapered portions (152 and 154) designed to engage a tapered shaft portion. In yet another embodiment, the bore is simply a cylinder that extends through the article. In such a configuration, the article, whether deployed in the tensioner or bowl mode, may be retained on a support shaft by virtue of the design of that portion of the shaft adapted to engage the article. For example, the shaft may be shaped to include a tapered article-engaging portion wherein the most distal part of the shaft has an outer diameter that is less than the inner diameter of the bore, while the region of the shaft below the distal part continues to expand in diameter moving down the shaft, thereby allowing the article to slide onto the shaft until it reaches that portion of the shaft having an outer diameter equal to that of the inner diameter of the bore. As those in the art will appreciate, the invention envisions any configuration suitable for retaining the article on the shaft in the desired orientation.

FIG. 4 depicts a preferred embodiment of the invention wherein the article (100) is disposed in the “bowl” configuration when disposed on a telescoping support shaft (170). In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, the article (100) contains two bores (182 and 184) in the shaft receptacle (180). The upper portion of the support shaft (170) mates with one of the bores (184) in the shaft receptacle (180). A garnish dish (190) may also be associated with this embodiment. As shown in this figure, the dish (190) contains a bowl portion (192) and a mounting portion (194) adapted to be positioned in a bore (182) in the shaft receptacle (180).

Any suitable support shaft can be used with an article according to the invention. Shafts may be of any predetermined length, or they may be of any telescoping or other variety that provides for length or height adjustment. If desired, they may also include legs or similar supporting members to keep the shaft upright when in a free-standing mode. In preferred embodiments, the legs used to support a shaft can be folded into recesses or pockets in the shaft when not in use. In alternative embodiments, a support shaft for use in accordance with an article of the invention is adapted for association with a base plate or the surface (particularly a hole or other recess therein) on which the system is positioned.

As those in the art will appreciate, tarpaulin tensioners and their component parts can be made from any suitable material, or combination of materials, using any suitable process. Which material(s) and which manufacturing process(es) to use in the particular circumstance is left to the discretion of the ordinarily skilled artisan, depending upon such factors as the intended application, projected life-span of the part(s), cost (both in terms of manufacturing and sale), etc. Preferred materials include metals, and particularly plastics and composite materials. Manufacturing processes include injection molding of plastic parts, as well as casting, extrusion, stamping, etc.

The tarpaulin tensioners of the invention have many uses. For example, they can be used to provide sufficient pitch to tarps positioned over tensioners according to the invention in order to provide a storage area protected from the elements, concealed from view, etc. When set up, a system of the invention can, for example, facilitate the shedding of water falling over the area protected by the tarp portion of the system.

All of the compositions and methods described and claimed herein can be made and executed without undue experimentation in light of the present disclosure. While the compositions and methods of this invention have been described in terms of preferred embodiments, it will be apparent to those of skill in the art that variations may be applied to the compositions and methods. All such similar substitutes and modifications apparent to those skilled in the art are deemed to be within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

All patents, patent applications, and publications mentioned in the specification are indicative of the levels of those of ordinary skill in the art to which the invention pertains. All patents, patent applications, and publications, including those to which priority or another benefit is claimed, are herein incorporated by reference to the same extent as if each individual publication was specifically and individually indicated to be incorporated by reference.

The invention illustratively described herein suitably may be practiced in the absence of any element(s) not specifically disclosed herein. Thus, for example, in each instance herein any of the terms “comprising”, “consisting essentially of”, and “consisting of” may be replaced with either of the other two terms. The terms and expressions which have been employed are used as terms of description and not of limitation, and there is no intention that in the use of such terms and expressions of excluding any equivalents of the features shown and described or portions thereof, but it is recognized that various modifications are possible within the scope of the invention claimed. Thus, it should be understood that although the present invention has been specifically disclosed by preferred embodiments and optional features, modification and variation of the concepts herein disclosed may be resorted to by those skilled in the art, and that such modifications and variations are considered to be within the scope of this invention as defined by the appended claims.