Title:
SHIPPING CONTAINER AND METHOD OF FORMING AND USING SAME
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A container configured to protect items during shipping and storage is disclosed. The container includes a cover, a liner, and an inflatable bladder between the liner and the cover. The container further includes a protective plate, which optionally houses one or more pumps to inflate the bladder. The container may also include a retractable handle, which may form part of the pump.



Inventors:
Mcgrail, Daniel (Rockford, IL, US)
Sanches, David (Champlin, MN, US)
Stiles, Charles (Rockford, IL, US)
Application Number:
12/020445
Publication Date:
07/30/2009
Filing Date:
01/25/2008
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B55/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
STEPHENS III, JOSE S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SNELL & WILMER L.L.P. (Main) (PHOENIX, AZ, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A golf bag container comprising: a cover; a liner for receiving golf clubs, the liner coupled to the cover; an inflatable bladder interposed between the liner and the cover; and a protective plate.

2. The golf bag container of claim 1, further comprising a pump fluidly coupled to the inflatable bladder.

3. The golf bag container of claim 1, further comprising a retractable handle coupled to the protective plate.

4. The golf bag container of claim 3, wherein the handle forms part of the pump.

5. The golf bag container of claim 1, further comprising a manual pump integrated into the protective plate.

6. The golf bag container of claim 1, wherein the cover comprises a sealable opening.

7. The golf bag container of claim 1, further comprising a second pump fluidly coupled to the bladder.

8. The golf bag container of claim 1, further comprising a check valve fluidly coupled to the bladder.

9. The golf bag container of claim 1, wherein the bladder is coupled to the cover.

10. The golf bag container of claim 1, wherein the cover is coupled to the protective plate using a device selected from the group consisting of snaps, Velcro, rivets, glues, and screws.

11. The golf bag container of claim 1, wherein the bladder is formed of a material selected from the groups consisting of polyurethane, a resilient plastic, and rubber.

12. A container comprising: a cover; a liner attached to the cover having an inner cargo area; an inflatable bladder between the cover and the liner; a sealable opening to provide access to an inner cargo area; a protective plate attached to the cover; and a pump integrally formed in the plate, the pump fluidly coupled to the inflatable bladder.

13. The container of claim 12, wherein the inner cargo region is configured to accommodate a bag of golf clubs.

14. The container of claim 12, wherein the inner cargo region is configured to accommodate a set of skis.

15. The container of claim 12, wherein the inner cargo region is configured to accommodate a snowboard.

16. The container of claim 12, wherein the inner cargo region is configured to accommodate an electronic device.

17. The container of claim 12, wherein the inflatable bladder comprises polyurethane material.

18. The container of claim 12, wherein the inflatable bladder has a thickness of about 5 to about 120 mils.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates generally to containers having an inflatable bladder. More particularly, the invention relates to fluid-cushioned containers, for providing protection to objects from damage during transportation and/or storage, and to methods of making and using the containers.

BACKGROUND

When transporting cargo, it is often desirable to provide temporary protection to prevent or mitigate any damage to the cargo that might otherwise occur during shipment. When the cargo arrives at a desired location, the shipping container, or other protective apparatus, is often unnecessary, adding unwanted bulk and weight to the cargo. For example, in the case of golf clubs, a hard “shell” type container, allows an entire golf bag containing a set of clubs to be placed within the shell, to transport (e.g., via commercial airline) the clubs from one location to another. Such containers are desirable during transportation because the hard shell casing provides protection to the club heads as well as the club shafts. Upon arrival at the desired location, however, the hard containers are generally unnecessary and relatively heavy and bulky, making it difficult for an individual to move the clubs from one location to another. Soft bags, on the other hand are relatively light and easy to move, but provide little to no protection for the clubs during transport. Other presently known containers include a “shell” type hood which fits over the top of a typical golf bag and also provides protection for the club heads. Such protection is provided, generally, at less cost and lower physical bulk than the aforementioned hard shell cases that envelop the entire bag; however, this type of protective apparatus is not effective against damage to the club shafts during shipment.

Similar problems are encountered during transportation of other items such as artwork and museum pieces, skis, snowboards, fishing rods and other athletic and leisure equipment, cosmetic items, antiques, glassware, furniture, and other fragile or valuable goods. Accordingly, improved apparatus and methods for providing protection to goods to mitigate damage during shipment are desired.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates, generally, to protective containers, and more particularly to containers that include inflatable bladders. The containers of the invention can be used to protect items during shipment and/or storage of the items. While the manner in which the invention addresses the various drawbacks of the prior art will be discussed in greater detail below, in general, the invention provides a reusable container, having a portion or portions that are inflated to increase protection to items and deflated when reduced bulk and/or access to the items is desired.

In accordance with various embodiments of the invention, a container includes a liner, a cover, and an inflatable bladder interposed between at least a portion of the liner and the cover. In accordance with various aspects of these embodiments, the liner is attached to the cover. In accordance with further aspects, the bladder is also coupled to the cover. The liner may be formed of various materials such as nylon and other durable textiles. Similarly, the bladder may be formed of various materials, such as resilient material such as rubber or plastic. Likewise, the case or cover may be formed of hard materials, such as such plastic or aluminum, or soft materials, such as nylon, other durable textiles, and the like.

In accordance with further embodiments of the invention, a container includes a cover, an inflatable bladder, and a protective plate coupled to the cover. In accordance with various aspects of these embodiments, the container includes a pump to inflate the bladder. In accordance with further aspects, the plate includes a toe catch to stabilize the container while inflating the bladder. In accordance with further aspects, the container includes a liner, and the inflatable bladder is interposed between the liner and the cover. In accordance with yet further aspects, the container further includes rails on a back portion of the protective plate to provide rigidity to the plate.

In accordance with yet further embodiments of the invention, the bladder is formed of a single inflatable cell. In accordance with alternative embodiments, the bladder includes multiple inflatable cells.

In accordance with other aspects of the invention, the bladder includes a puncture-resistant portion formed of a resilient material, such as plastic, natural or synthetic fibers, or a combination of such materials. The puncture-resistant portion may be attached to the inflatable portion by, for example, hermetically sealing sections of the portions together, an injection or other molding process, adhesives, stitching, mechanical coupling, or by any other suitable means.

In accordance with further embodiments of the invention, the size, shape and operational characteristics of the container may be adapted to accommodate a particular item being transported. For example, in the context of transporting golf clubs, some golfers may desire to protect the club heads, so that the shipping container includes an inflatable liner component to surround the club head region. Other golfers may wish to also protect the club shafts, in which case substantially the entire shipping container may include an integral inflatable liner. Protection for other types of equipment, such as, ski and snowboard equipment, camping gear, hunting equipment, mp3 players, and the like, is also contemplated by the present invention.

In accordance with still yet another embodiment of the invention, the shipping container may be adapted to accommodate various items being transported. The shipping container may contain several selectively inflatable compartments to accommodate the individual items being shipped, such as delicate bottles, souvenirs, and the like.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A more complete understanding of the present invention may be derived by referring to the detailed description and claims, considered in connection with the drawing figures, wherein like reference numbers refer to similar elements throughout the figures, and:

FIG. 1 illustrates a container in accordance with exemplary embodiments of the invention;

FIGS. 2-4 illustrate a protective plate in accordance with various embodiments of the invention;

FIG. 5 illustrates a bladder in accordance with various embodiments of the invention;

FIGS. 6-9 illustrate a container in accordance with alternative embodiments of the invention;

FIGS. 10-13 illustrate a container in accordance with yet additional embodiments of the invention; and

FIG. 14 illustrates a cover, a bladder, and a liner in accordance with various embodiments of the invention.

Skilled artisans will appreciate that elements in the figures are illustrated for simplicity and clarity, and therefore may omit extraneous detail and have not necessarily been drawn to scale. For example, the dimensions of some of the elements in the figures may be exaggerated relative to other elements to facilitate the description of various aspects and features of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The container of the present invention may be used to enclose and provide protection to a variety of items such as golf clubs, other sporting equipment, food, computers, and other items. For convenience, the container is described in detail below in connection with a variety of specific applications. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the invention is not limited to these specific applications and that the embodiments described below are merely exemplary.

FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary container 100 in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention. Container 100 includes a protective plate 102, a cover 104, an inflatable bladder 500 (illustrated in FIG. 5), and a liner 1402 (illustrated in FIG. 14). Container 100 also optionally includes one or more handles 106-110 to facilitate handling of container 100 or cover 104 and any contents therein. Container 100 may also optionally include one or more straps 112-116. Straps 112-116 may be used to protect an opening in container 100 and/or to prevent portions of container 100 from rupturing. The straps may be placed around cover 104, held in place with loops or the like, or attached to plate 102.

With momentary reference to FIGS. 2-4, exemplary container 100 also includes pumps 202, 204 and a handle 206. As discussed in more detail below, container 100 can be used to store and transport items, such as golf clubs and the like, by inserting the item(s) into an interior portion of cover 104 and liner 1402, and inflating bladder 500, e.g., using pumps 202, 204 to provide a protective cushion around the item(s). Handle 206 may function both as a part of pumps 202, 204 and as a retractable handle, which may be extended and optionally locked in an extended position and retracted and optionally locked in a retracted position.

With continued reference to FIGS. 2-4, protective plate 102 and various potions of container 100 are described in more detail. In the illustrated embodiments, protective plate 102 is formed of a rigid material, such as plastic, metal, or rubber to provide rigid protection to items stored within container 100 and to facilitate transport of the items.

Plate 102 is shaped to fit around a lower portion of cover 104 and is configured to house the pump mechanism(s) used to inflate bladder 500. In one exemplary embodiment of the invention, the pump mechanism includes handle 206, pumps 202 and 204, a manifold 212, tubes 214, 216 to fluidly couple pumps 202, 204 to manifold 212, a pressure release valve to prevent bursting of bladder 500 while pumping (not illustrated), and a coupler 220 to fluidly couple manifold 212 to bladder 500. In accordance with alternative embodiments of the invention, container 100 may include one or more electrical pumps in addition to or in lieu of manual pumps 202, 204.

Container 100 may also include bars 222, 224 to stabilize plate 102. In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, bars 222, 224 are formed of plastic, rubber, or metal and attached to plate 102 using glue, rivets, screws, combinations thereof, or the like. Bars 222, 224 are generally constructed, such that bars 222, 224 protrude from a rear portion of plate 102 and extend further out from plate 102 than any other component (e.g., pumps, handle) of container 100.

Plate 102 may also include a toe catch 226, which is a cavity formed within plate 102. Users can use catch 226 to stabilize container—for example, when bladder 500 is being inflated or deflated—or use catch 226 as a handle when lifting container 100.

As noted above, FIG. 5 illustrates exemplary bladder 500. Bladder 500 includes couplers 502-520. Couples 502-520 may be used to secure bladder 500 to cover 104 or liner 1402, such that bladder remains substantially in place as bladder 500 is inflated and deflated. Various forms of couplers may be used to attach bladder 500 to cover 104 or to liner 1402. In the illustrated embodiment, couplers 502-520 are in the form of snap parts and cover 104 and/or the liner have corresponding snap parts.

A shape of bladder 500 may vary in accordance with various applications. When used in connection with container 100 that is used to transport golf clubs, bladder 500 may include first portion 522, which is substantially rectangular, a second portion 524, which is substantially triangular, and a third portion 526, which is substantially circular. Substantially circular portion 526 is configured to fold over golf club heads, when clubs (and a bag) are inserted into container 100, to provide support to clubs and mitigate movement of the clubs. Bladder 500 may be formed of any suitable material, such as polyurethane (e.g., Noveon Estane Resins) having a thickness of about 5-120 mils, preferably about 8-30 mils, and more preferably about 12 mils. Puncture resistance of bladder 500 may be enhanced by applying a nylon blend material, such as DuPont Cordura, to a portion of the respective assembly. The material for bladder 500 may alternatively include a resilient plastic, rubber, or other suitable high-tension material.

Bladder 500 may include multiple cells or baffled areas that may be independently formed in a variety of ways. In accordance with various aspects of the invention, baffled areas are formed by heat-sealing multiple layers of material (e.g., polyurethane) together to form a bladder having multiple baffled areas.

It should be further appreciated by those skilled in the art that the herein described invention refers to the various sections, cells, and bladders as “inflatable.” In this context, various sections, cells, and bladders may be inflated with any fluid, such as gas, liquid or a semi-solid such as a gel or foam material. Moreover, the various valves of the invention are intended to regulate the respective type of cushioning fluid that occupies the various sections, cells, and bladders.

FIG. 14 illustrates a cross section 1400 of a portion or container 100, illustrating cover 104, liner 1402, and bladder 500 interposed between cover 104 and liner 1402. In accordance with various embodiments of the invention, cover 104 and liner 1402 are coupled together, using for example, a zipper, Velcro, snaps or the like, and bladder 500 is placed between cover 104 and liner 1402. As noted above, to further secure bladder 500 between cover 104 and liner 1402, bladder 500 may be secured to either or both of cover 104 and liner 1402 using similar mechanisms. Cover 104 and liner 1402 add additional puncture resistance protection for container 100.

Similar to cover 104, liner 1402 may be formed of any suitable material, such as nylon, cotton, polyester or the like. In accordance with one particular example of the invention, liner 1402 is formed of nylon.

Cover 104 can be coupled to protective plate 102 using any suitable device. For example, cover 104 can be coupled to plate 102 using rivets, screws, glue, or the like. Alternatively, cover 104 can be attached to plate 102 by securing straps or the like to or around cover 104.

Referring momentarily to FIG. 1, to permit convenient loading and unloading of the contents to be shipped or stored, container 100 includes a sealable opening 118, such as a zipper and/or Velcro. In accordance with one exemplary embodiment, opening 118 includes a zipper and a flap overlying the zipper, which is optionally attached to a portion of cover 104 using Velcro. Other sealing mechanisms, such as buttons, snaps, or the like may also be used in connection with various embodiments of the invention. Cover 104 may include pockets (not shown) or other regions for storing additional material. Such regions may optionally be sealable, using, for example, zippers, snaps, Velcro, or the like.

Referring now to FIGS. 2-4, as noted above, container 100 optionally includes wheels 208, 210, for example in-line wheels, to allow a user to move container 100 more easily—e.g., through airports or, if desired, on a playing surface such as a golf course.

FIGS. 6-9 illustrate a container 600 in accordance with additional embodiments of the invention. Container 600 is similar to container 100, except container 600 includes straps 602, 604, a handle 606, and a protective plate 608 (rather than plate 102).

Plate 608 is similar to plate 102, except plate 608 includes portion 702 and a contoured portion 704. When container 600 is used to transport golf clubs, contoured portion 704 may be desirable because it more closely matches a contour of a golf club carrying bag.

Similar to container 100, container 600 includes a retractable handle 706, pumps (e.g., pumps 202, 204, not illustrated in FIG. 7), rails 710, 712, and a toe catch 708.

FIGS. 10-13 illustrate yet another container 1000 in accordance with yet additional embodiments of the invention. Container 1000 is similar to container 600, except container 1000 includes a protective plate 1002, which includes rounded corners on a bottom 1202 to conserve material and to facilitate transport of items within container 1000.

The present invention has been described above with reference to various exemplary embodiments. Those skilled in the art will recognize that changes and modifications may be made to the exemplary embodiments without departing from the scope of the present invention. For example, the inflatable liner, container, and bags and methods described herein may be used with various transporting and storage devices. These alternatives can be suitably selected depending upon the particular application or in consideration of any number of factors associated with the operation of the container. These and other changes or modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention.