Title:
CUP DISPENSER
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A cup dispenser having a plurality of resilient adjustable clips for engaging and dispensing cups without marring the surface of the dispensed cups. The clips include a cup engagement portion that exceeds the deformed width of the portion of a cup with which the clips are engaged.



Inventors:
Pearl, Jayson (Shorewood, WI, US)
Ziebart, Bernie (Pewaukee, WI, US)
Omdoll, Paul A. (Waukesha, WI, US)
Collins, Scott (Milwaukee, WI, US)
Application Number:
12/145954
Publication Date:
03/05/2009
Filing Date:
06/25/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
24/455, 221/312R
International Classes:
A47F1/04
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
KUMAR, RAKESH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BOYLE FREDRICKSON S.C. (MILWAUKEE, WI, US)
Claims:
1. A cup dispenser comprising: a tubular receptacle for holding a plurality of cups to be dispensed; and a plurality of resilient, adjustable clips each clip having a cup engagement portion, wherein said cup engagement portion is wider than a deformed engaged portion of a cup in said tubular receptacle such that the edge of said engagement portion does not contact the surface of a cup.

2. The cup dispenser of claim 1 wherein the each clip includes: a leg section that extends upwardly into the tubular receptacle; a first bent section extending from the leg section at a first angle; and a second bent section extending from the first bent section and a second angle different from the first angle.

3. The cup dispenser of claim 2 wherein the engaged portion is defined at the intersection of the first bent section and the second bent section.

4. The cup dispenser of claim 2 wherein the first angle is between 95 degrees and 180 degrees.

5. The cup dispenser of claim 4 wherein first angle is between 125 degrees and 160 degrees.

6. The cup dispenser of claim 5 wherein the first angle is approximately 147 degrees.

7. The cup dispenser of claim 2 wherein the second angle is between 65 degrees and 170 degrees.

8. The cup dispenser of claim 7 wherein the second angle is between 95 degrees and 140 degrees.

9. The cup dispenser of claim 8 wherein the second angle is approximately 126 degrees.

10. The cup dispenser of claim 2 wherein each clip includes a third bent section that extends from the second bent section at a third angle.

11. The cup dispenser of claim 10 wherein the third angle is between 100 degrees and 140 degrees.

12. The cup dispenser of claim 11 wherein the third angle is between 110 degrees and 125 degrees.

13. The cup dispenser of claim 12 wherein the third angle is approximately 117 degrees.

14. The cup dispenser of claim 1 wherein the plurality of clips cooperate to limit cup removal from the tubular receptacle to one cup at a time.

15. The cup dispenser of claim 10 wherein the tubular receptacle comprises a generally circular collar and a plurality of slots formed in the collar, and wherein each clip comprises a tab extending from the third section, and wherein each tab is configured to be received in a respective slot.

16. The cup dispenser of claim 15 wherein each slot is defined by two sets of teeth spaced from one another.

17. The cup dispenser of claim 16 wherein each tab includes teeth that engage the two sets of teeth to engage the clip with the collar.

18. The cup dispenser of claim 16 wherein the two sets of teeth define a range of positions at which the clip may be engaged with the collar to adjust a radial spacing of the plurality of clips.

19. The cup dispenser of claim 1 wherein each clip is formed of molded plastic and the deformed engaged portion is free of a mold line.

20. A clip for use with a container dispenser, the clip comprising: an elongated leg section; a first bent section extending from the elongated leg section at a first angle; a second bent section extending from the first bent section and a second angle different from the first angle; and a cup engagement portion defined at the union of the first bent section and the second bent section.

21. The clip of claim 20 formed of molded plastic, and wherein the cup engagement portion has a cup engagement surface free of any mold lines.

22. The clip of claim 20 wherein the first angle is between 95 degrees and 180 degrees.

23. The clip of claim 22 wherein first angle is between 125 degrees and 160 degrees.

24. The clip of claim 23 wherein the first angle is approximately 147 degrees.

25. The clip of claim 20 wherein the second angle is between 65 degrees and 170 degrees.

26. The clip of claim 25 wherein the second angle is between 95 degrees and 140 degrees.

27. The clip of claim 26 wherein the second angle is approximately 126 degrees.

28. The clip of claim 20 further comprising a third bent section that extends from the second bent section at a third angle.

29. The clip of claim 28 wherein the third angle is between 100 degrees and 140 degrees.

30. The clip of claim 29 wherein the third angle is between 110 degrees and 125 degrees.

31. The clip of claim 30 wherein the third angle is approximately 117 degrees.

32. A container retention apparatus for use with a beverage cup dispenser, comprising: a collar adapted to be connected to a dispensing receptacle; a series of channels formed in the collar; and plurality of resilient, adjustable clips, each clip configured to be received in a respective channel and having a container engagement portion, wherein said container engagement portion is wider than a deformed engaged portion of a container in the dispensing receptacle such that the edge of said engagement portion does not contact the surface of a container.

33. The cup retention apparatus of claim 32 wherein each clip includes an end section configured to engage a wall of the dispensing receptacle.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The present invention claims the benefit of U.S. Ser. No. 60/946,984, filed Jun. 25, 2007; the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to dispensers and more particularly to a cup dispenser that dispenses cups one at a time without causing damage to the cup as it is dispensed.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Dispensers are widely used to store and dispense beverage cups. Typically, a stack of nested cups is held by a dispenser so that a portion of the bottom-most cup is exposed. An individual desiring a cup simply pulls on the exposed portion of the cup, and removes the bottom-most cup from the dispenser.

Currently, three types of cup dispensers are generally used in the commercial and industrial food markets. All three types of dispensers have an opening and generally use a spring biased platform to urge cups towards the opening. The three types of dispensers have different structures associated with the opening. One type of beverage cup dispenser has a fixed rim that is configured to dispense a single cup size. Fixed rim dispensers do not generally experience much wear from use. However, they cannot accommodate different cups sizes so that many different dispensers are required to meet all cup needs. In order to adjust for even the slightest variation in cup size, a customer must purchase or deploy a new dispenser at a substantial cost.

Another type of dispenser is an adjustable dispenser. This type of dispenser uses spring clips or the like that can be adjusted to dispense multiple cup sizes. U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,126,248 to House; 4,033,478 to House, and 4,658,983 to Suttles and United States Patent Application number 2007/0295746 to Gapp disclose a number of these adjustable dispensers. While these dispensers are adjustable to accommodate different cup sizes and do not exhibit much wear from use, these designs have a tendency to mar or crack certain types of cups, e.g., foam cups.

The third type of dispenser employs a flexible diaphragm instead of a fixed rim. This type of dispenser has a removable flexible diaphragm through which cups are pulled. The flexible diaphragm has an opening that may be varied to accommodate cups of different sizes. U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,709,316 to Jolly et al. and 6,199,723 to Collins et al. disclose cup dispensers with flexible diaphragms. Flexible diaphragms are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and can be readily shaped in accordance with the needs of a food service organization. As such, a dispenser can be fit with diaphragms having different sized and shaped openings at a relatively low expense. Flexible diaphragms, however, are subject to wear. As such, they need to be periodically replaced and thus, have ongoing costs associated with their use.

The current dispensers suffer from certain drawbacks and limitations. Accordingly, a need exists for dispensers that are easy to use, are resistant to premature wear, are flexible to changing or multiple cup needs, do not mar or crack cups and solve other problems associated with the existing beverage cup dispensers.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In accordance with the present invention, a device is provided that employs multiple adjustable clips having a relatively wide line of contact with the bottom-most cup in a stack of cups. The width of the line of contact with the bottom-most cup spreads the retaining pressure on the cup out over a wider area than prior art devices, and when replicated among multiple clips, serves to minimize or eliminate the marring on the cup which would otherwise occur with the narrower lines of contact.

The clip shape of the present invention also permits improved loading of a stack of cups. The adjustable clips preferably include lead-in ramps which, unlike the prior art, provide a gentle egress into the dispenser with little or no marring of any cups in the stack.

The improvement in cup dispensing may be further enhanced by selecting materials that permit a balance between the rigidity and flexibility of the clip itself. Constructing the clips of the present invention with the appropriate flexibility permits the dispenser to dispense relatively efficiently despite minor misadjustments. It also contributes to the ability of the cup dispenser of the present invention to dispense cups without marring or cracking the cups.

Preferably, the clips of the present invention are molded in such a way so as to avoid the presence of a raised center line along the line of contact with the cups. This line, which is present on all known prior art plastic clips dispensers, can mar cups on ingress into or egress from the dispenser.

The clips of the present invention can be incorporated into a brand-new dispenser or used to replace existing clips in existing dispensers. In either case, the present invention yields an improvement over the prior art.

Various other features, objects and advantages of the present invention will be made apparent from the following detailed description taken together with the drawings, which together disclose the best mode presently contemplated of carrying out the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred exemplary embodiments of the invention are illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which like reference numerals represent like parts throughout, and in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the embodiment of FIG. 1, with the trim ring removed;

FIG. 3 is a side view of a one embodiment of a clip of the present invention;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the embodiment of the clip shown in FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 is an exploded view of one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the collar of the present invention;

FIG. 7 is a side view of the cup support of one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is a bottom view of one embodiment of the present invention showing the bottom-most cup of a stack of cups mounted in the cup storage tube; and

FIG. 9 is a section view of that shown in FIG. 8 taken along line 9-9 thereof.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

As shown in FIG. 1, a dispenser 10 has a cup storage tube 12 for holding a stack of cups to be dispensed. The dispenser 10 preferably includes a biasing means such as a spring 11 that fits within the tube 12, a cup support 14 and a cap 15. As shown in FIG. 7, the cup support 14 is in the shape of slightly flattened dome to center the stack of cups within the tube 12 and imparting appropriate pressure on the stack of cups toward the dispensing end of the tube 12 without breaking or otherwise damaging the cups. A collar 16 is fitted on the top of the tube 12 and has an outside diameter greater than the tube 12 and greater than the opening in a housing (not shown) into which the dispenser 10 is mounted. As such, the dispenser 10 can be placed in the housing and maintained in place by one or more fasteners (not shown) affixing the collar 16 to the housing. The collar is coaxial with the tube 12 and its front opening is preferably secured to the tube 12 by a plurality of studs 17 that fit through a plurality of corresponding holes in tube 12. A trim ring 18 preferably fits over and connects to the collar 16 to provide a finished appearance when the dispenser 10 is mounted in a housing.

As can be seen in FIG. 2, preferably at least three substantially identical resilient clips 20 are provided. When three clips are deployed, they are disposed approximately 120 degrees apart inside tube 12, near its front opening. The number of such clips is preferably at least three, to insure that a cup stack is supported symmetrically with respect to the tube 12. However, larger numbers of clips can be used if desired.

Each clip 20 mounted in the dispenser 10 of the present invention is fit, at its distal end, into a slot 22 in the tube 12. A first, outer end section 24 of the clip 20 extends a short distance along the outer wall of the tube 12 as it extends through the slot 22. A second, inner end section 26 of the clip 20 extends a lesser distance than the end section 24 along the inner wall of the tube 12. As best shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, extending substantially straight up from the inner end section 26 is a relatively long leg section 28. A first bent portion 30 extends out at an angle θ from the long leg section 28. Preferably this angle is between 95 degrees and 180 degrees more preferably between 125 degrees and 160 degrees and most preferably 147 degrees. The first bent portion 30 meets a second bent portion 32 at a cup engagement portion 31 and extends back away from the first bent portion 30 at an angle α. Preferably this angle is between 65 degrees and 170 degrees, more preferably between 95 degrees and 140 degrees and most preferably 126 degrees. These angles are set to avoid interference with next to last cup in the cup stack (angle θ) and to permit the bottom-most cup to gently but quickly clear the clips 20 to permit ease of dispensing without cup damage (angle α). A final section 33, extends away from the second bent portion 32 of each clip 20 at an angle γ. Preferably this angle is between 100 degrees and 140 degrees, more preferably between 110 degrees and 125 degrees and most preferably 117 degrees. Section 33 comprises three portions 34, 36 and 38. Section 38 of each clip 20 includes a set of teeth 42 which, because of the resiliency of each clip 20, removably engage a corresponding set of teeth in 44 in the collar 16 to prevent radial movement of the body of the clip 10. This engagement, caused by the biased resiliency of each clip 20, serves to maintain cup engagement portion 31 in a selected position relative to the tube 12. A tab 40 extends up from section 33 and fits through a channel 46 in collar 16 which bifurcates each set of teeth 44. Tab 40 provides means for adjusting the relative radial position of each clip 20 by permitting the teeth 42 and 44 to be disengaged when the tab 40 is pressed down and rotated along an arc within the channel 46.

When the clips 20 are mounted in the dispenser 10, and engage a stack of cups, they undergo some deformation. In one embodiment of the present invention, the majority of the deformation is born by section 28 which bows out. However, angles γ and α generally undergo some slight deformation as well, typically decreasing on the order of approximately 0.5 degrees. Angle θ is largely unchanged under compression.

Referring now to FIGS. 8-9, in operation, the dispenser 10 is filled with a stack of cups 100 the bottom through the clips 20. The clips 20 provide lead in ramps (section 32) to help a stack of cups load into the tube 12 without marring. The ramps function by virtue of the shape and angular relationships of each section 32 to the rest of the clip 20.

If necessary, the clips 20 may be adjusted by pressing down on one or more of the tabs 40 and rotating the clips along an arc within channel 46 to engage the bottom-most cup 102 in the stack 100, center the cups within the tube 12 and selectively set the clips radially evenly with respect to the tube 12. Preferably the collar 16 includes consistent markings 47 on each side of a channel 46 to provide a reference to a user to facilitate setting the clips radially evenly around the stack of cups.

The cup stack 100 is held in place by the contact of the cup engagement portion 31 of each clip 20 with the side of the bottom-most cup 102. As shown in FIG. 8, the contact between the engagement portion 31 and the bottom-most cup 102 does not occur along the entire width of the cup engagement portion 31. Rather, as shown in FIG. 4, only part of the engagement portion 31 is in contact with the side of the bottom-most cup. In other words, the width of the engagement portion 31 is wider than the curve of the cup when the curve is flattened or deformed by the engagement portion 31 as it holds the cup stack 100 in place. This extra width means that there will be no high pressure point where the edges of the clip 20 engage the sides of the bottom-most cup. This translates to minimal if any marring of the cups being dispensed. It also serves to cause the bottom-most cup to deform and separate from the next cup in the stack which is held back from dispensing, at least in part, by its ultimate interaction with section 30 of the clip 20.

The clips 20 of the present invention are preferably plastic, and more preferably are made of 0.80 inch thick polypropylene to provide good wear resistance and resilience. However, other materials with similar characteristics may be substituted. When the clips are made from plastic, they are preferably molded to avoid the presence of a raised mold parting line down the center of the engagement portion 31. The absence of such a line diminishes still further, as compared to the prior art, the likelihood that the clips will mar any of the cups in the cup stack.

In one embodiment of the present invention the cup engagement portion is at least one inch wide with a 0.10 inch radius. This width preferably corresponds to a maximum cup diameter (as measured across the mouth of a cup) of approximately 4.125 inches. This yields a ratio of cup diameter to engagement portion width of 4.125:1 or a preferred ratio of approximately 4:1. The ratio decreases as the size of the cups to be dispensed decreases.

In another embodiment of the present invention, a gasket 104 is employed, in addition to clips 20 to aid in the smooth dispensing of the cups from the dispenser 10. The gasket also provides a sanitary barrier, particularly when cups are dispensed upwardly from a counter (not shown).

The dispenser 10 and clips 20 of the present invention may have other applications aside from use in connection with cups. Further, the invention may be implemented in a variety of configurations, using certain features or aspects of the several embodiments described herein and others known in the art. Thus, although the invention has been herein shown and described in what is perceived to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that the invention is not intended to be limited to the specific features and embodiments set forth above. Rather, it is recognized that modifications may be made by one of skill in the art of the invention without departing from the spirit or intent of the invention and, therefore, the invention is to be taken as including all reasonable equivalents to the subject matter disclosed herein.