Title:
PORTABLE COLLAPSIBLE APPARATUS FOR STORING AND DISPENSING PAPER TOWELS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A paper towel roll of approximately 12 inches in length or less is spooled onto a center rod that is coupled to an end terminal in one end panel of a cylindrical portable, soft, collapsible and protective cover. The remaining free end of the center rod is then coupled to another end terminal in the opposite end panel of the soft collapsible cover. The user is can then pull on the paper towel sheets and withdrawn them from the soft collapsible cover in order to dispense sheets from the roll as needed. When not in use, a flap completely encloses the paper towel roll and center rod in order to store the contents inside and protect them from the outside environment.



Inventors:
Fischer, Deena (New York, NY, US)
Application Number:
12/126819
Publication Date:
11/26/2009
Filing Date:
05/23/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
221/45
International Classes:
A47K10/24; B65H18/28
View Patent Images:
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20050103918Modular hose reelMay, 2005Bedwell



Primary Examiner:
LANGDON, EVAN H
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Myers Andras LLP (Irvine, CA, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A portable apparatus capable of storing and dispensing sheets from a roll of sheet material comprising: a cylindrically shaped cover that is made of a cover material that is soft, collapsible, the cover capable of having a open and closed configuration; a pair of end panels that are made out of the same material as the cover flap; attachment means for securing the cover wrap around the roll; a center support rod; a pair of end terminals, one of the pair of end terminals being coupled to a corresponding one of the pair of end panels; and means for coupling the center rod to each end panel via the end terminal.

2. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising a flap defined in the soft, collapsible cover, the flap being rotatable to define the closed and open configuration to allow spooling of the roll onto the center support rod when in the open configuration.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 where the flap has a free edge and is not secured along at least a portion of its free edge to allow sheets to be dispensed from under the flap.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 where the soft collapsible cover further comprises a slit defined therein to allow dispensing of the paper towels through the slit when the soft collapsible cover is in the closed configuration.

5. The apparatus of claim 1 where the soft collapsible material is stiffened or semi-rigid.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 where the soft collapsible material is water resistant.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising a handle coupled to the soft collapsible cover wrap to aid in the portability.

8. The apparatus of claim 1 where the center rod is comprised of an integral rod that is coupled to one of the pair of end panels via the corresponding one of the pair of end terminals, one end of the rod being adapted for gripping and an opposing end of the rod being adapted for free standing vertical support of the apparatus.

9. The apparatus of claim 1 where the center rod is coupled to both end terminals located in each of the end panels.

10. The apparatus of claim 1 where the center rod is comprised of two separate rods, each of which are coupled to a corresponding end panel by the corresponding end terminal.

11. The apparatus of claim 1 where the center rod is comprised of a telescoping unit that is capable of being contracted and expanded.

12. The apparatus of claim 1 where the soft collapsible cover is made out of a pleated or folded material to allows the cover to be contracted and to be expanded to a user selected size.

13. The apparatus of claim 12 where the collapsible cover has a longitudinal length and where user selected size is a magnitude of the longitudinal length of the collapsible cover.

14. The apparatus of claim 12 where the collapsible cover has a diameter and where the user selected size is a diameter magnitude of the collapsible cover.

15. The apparatus of claim 1 where the soft collapsible cover wrap has an interior surface arranged and configured to minimize friction with the roll.

16. A method of storing, protecting and dispensing sheets from a roll in a portable dispenser comprising: storing a roll within a soft, collapsible, protective cover; and dispensing the sheets from a roll contained within the soft collapsible cover by pulling the sheets through an opening provided in the soft collapsible cover.

17. The method of claim 16 where dispensing the sheets from a roll contained within the soft collapsible cover comprises lifting a flap provided on the soft collapsible cover to expose the roll inside the cover, and manually pulling the sheets off the roll.

18. The method of claim 16 where dispensing the sheets from the roll comprises pulling the sheets through a slit defined in the soft collapsible cover.

19. The method of claim 16 further comprising contracting and expanding the soft collapsible cover to a user chosen length to accommodate differently sized rolls.

20. A portable apparatus capable of storing and dispensing a roll of approximately 12 inches in length or less comprising: a cylindrically shaped cover that is made of a material that is water resistant, soft, collapsible, stiffened or semi-rigid, the cover capable of having a open and closed configuration, cover having an interior surface arranged and configured to minimize friction with the roll; a pair of end panels that are made out of the same material as the soft collapsible cover flap; attachment means for securing the soft collapsible cover wrap around the roll; a center support rod, which is an integral rod that is coupled to one of the pair of end panels, two separate rods, each of which are coupled to a corresponding end panel, or a telescoping rod capable of being contracted and expanded; a pair of end terminals, one of the pair of end terminals being coupled to a corresponding one of the pair of end panels and to the center support rod; means for coupling the center rod to each end panel via the end terminal; and a handle coupled to the soft collapsible cover wrap to aid in the portability.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention relates to the field of portable paper towel and/or toilet paper dispensers.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Many varieties of devices and methods of dispensing paper towels are known including vertical freestanding rods, fixed mounts attached to cabinets or walls, and in some cases, part of the architecture of the wall itself. However the main drawback of all of these prior paper towel dispensers is that none of them are portable to any degree. For example, fixed mounts can be an eyesore and are next to useless when in an outdoor or mobile setting such as in an automobile or when camping or hiking where there is nothing to which they can be affixed. Freestanding rods leave the paper towel exposed to the environment allowing them to become dirty and soiled before even being dispensed. Additionally, fixed mounts and freestanding rods can be cumbersome when not in use and awkward to pack when going on vacation or traveling in an automobile.

Not using any sort of protection and carrying a simple roll of paper towels in an automobile or in a backpack also leaves them subject to being wet, soiled, crushed and disfigured. A paper towel roll whose structural integrity has been compromised causes greater difficulty when dispensing the towels off the roll and thus denies the user some of the utility the roll of paper towels is meant to provide. Additionally, one accidental spill of liquid or drop in a puddle can ruin an entire roll of paper towels that has been left unprotected because each sheet has been left on the roll free to absorb the spilled substance. Also, by simply being unprotected dust and dirt accumulate on the roll ruining all or part of the roll as a result from it being loose and rolling around, such as in a automobile or trunk of an automobile and/or being moved around or even simply left in place unprotected, such as a in a garage.

Other portable devices exist for dispensing general paper as well. For example, the device disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,941,476 (“Copass”) is capable of accommodating and dispensing multiple gift wrapping paper rolls. However, the housing for devices such as these are rigid and shape given to them makes them heavy and awkward to pack and impossible to break down into a more compact state without destroying the unit itself. The hard, rigid and noncollapsible nature of the Copass device renders it impractical and inconvenient for use in an automobile, backpack and most other mobile applications.

What is needed is a simple, easy to use soft and collapsible apparatus that is capable of housing, dispensing, and protecting paper towels from the environment.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention gives users a way of storing, dispensing, and protecting paper towels, toilet paper or any type of rolled sheet material while in an automobile, on vacation, in dusty or dirty areas, or while being outdoors in general. In the illustrated embodiment reference will be made to paper towels, but it must be understood that any rolled sheet material may be substituted. The invention accomplishes this by securely holding a roll of paper towels within a durable, soft, and collapsible cover that fully encloses the roll, yet allows the paper towels inside to be easily dispensed.

In one embodiment of the invention, the device is opened by pulling back a soft cover flap made out of a stiffening material and water resistant fabric which exposes a center rod and an end terminal that is coupled to one of the end panels of the device. A standard roll of paper towels is then spooled on to the center rod until the edge of the roll meets the end terminal that is embedded into the end panel of the device. The free end of the rod is then coupled into the opposite end of the device by another end terminal that effectively locks and secures the paper towel roll into place. When the paper towels are pulled out by hand, the roll rotates around the center rod and the towels are dispensed. When the paper towels are no longer needed, the cover flap is replaced and secured into place by Velcro, clasps or zippers which effectively seal the paper towels inside and protects them from the outside environment. One end of the rod is rounded or provided with a shape adapted for gripping while dispensing the paper towels, and the opposing end of the rod is flat so that the whole device can vertically stand free.

In another embodiment of the invention, a narrow, horizontal slit is cut across or defined into the front of the soft outside cover. After the roll of paper towels has been spooled onto the center rod, the end or lead towel or sheet of the roll is pulled out and while still attached to the roll, is disposed through the slit. With the towels now going through the cover flap, the flap is reattached to the rest of the device forming a complete seal or an effective enclosure around the roll at all times of use. This embodiment provides greater constant protection of the paper towels while still allowing direct access to the sheets on the roll. The convenience of the device is also increased as the user no longer has to pull back the soft cover flap every time a paper towel is needed.

In yet another embodiment of the invention, the center rod that allows the paper towel roll to rotate is adjustable and telescoping. When placing a roll of paper in the device, the telescoping rod is pulled out according to the size of the incoming roll and then locked into place as disclosed above. This use of an adjustable or telescoping center rod aids in making the whole apparatus more compact when not in use. The rod may be removed from the device, compressed down into a smaller size, and then along with simply folding the soft cover, may be stored away or packed into a much smaller volume than was previously required.

In yet another embodiment of the invention, the center rod that allows the paper towel roll to rotate is made up of two smaller end rods. Each end rod extends from each end terminal into the main cavity of the device far enough so that a roll of paper towels is properly supported. Having two smaller rods at each end of the device instead of one longer rod allows the invention to be completely self contained and be made more compact or collapsed when not in use.

In yet another embodiment of the invention, the entire device as disclosed above is capable of being resized and formatted for a smaller roll of toilet tissue. The device in this embodiment is constructed in the same manner as disclosed above, but the soft material is replaced with a plastic pleated material instead. The pleated material when used in conjunction with a telescoping center rod allows the user of the device to dispense paper towels, then replace the paper towel roll with a standard toilet tissue roll and compress the device down to the appropriate size to better accommodate the new roll. The device operates in exactly the same manner as disclosed above, but only on a smaller scale. The pleated material also allows the device to be stretched back out to the full size of a paper towel roll should the need arise. Having a highly portable, lightweight cover for a paper towel roll that could also accommodate a toilet tissue roll offers campers, hikers, and other users a way of keeping their personal tissue clean and undamaged.

Finally, the applicant also contemplates that the device and all the embodiments disclosed including the variations on the center rod above are reduced in scale to accommodate a toilet tissue roll only. That is to say that the device and all of its components are specifically constructed to accommodate a roll of toilet tissue without any manipulation by the user.

In summary, the present invention is a portable apparatus capable of storing and dispensing a paper roll of approximately 12 inches in length or less comprising a cover wrap that is made out of a semi-rigid or stiffened material that is soft, collapsible, capable of having a open and closed position, and is cylindrical in shape, a pair of end panels that are made out of the same semi-rigid collapsible material as the cover flap, a means for securing the cover wrap around the paper roll, a center support rod, a end terminal coupled to each end panel, and a means for coupling the center rod to each end panel via the end terminal.

The soft cover flap of the apparatus further comprises a narrow slit located across the apparatus' lateral length to aid in dispensing the paper towels when the soft cover wrap is in the closed position.

The apparatus further comprises a handle coupled to the soft cover wrap to aid in the portability of the device.

The center rod of the apparatus is comprised of a single rigid unit that is coupled to an end panel of the device via the end terminal coupled to said end panel.

Another embodiment of the center rod of the apparatus is coupled to both end terminals located in each of the end panels.

Still another embodiment of the center rod of the apparatus is comprised of two rigid units that are coupled to each end panel via each end terminal.

The center rod of the apparatus is comprised of a telescoping unit that is capable of being compressed and expanded and which contains a means for coupling to each end terminal of the device.

In another embodiment of the invention, the soft cover wrap of the apparatus is made out of a collapsible pleated semi-rigid or stiffened material that allows the device to be compressed down into a user designated length and expanded out again to the original length after use.

The invention also includes a method of portably storing and dispensing a paper roll comprising storing a paper roll within a soft, durable, collapsible, semi-rigid housing, and dispensing a paper roll from the housing by pulling back a section of the housing exposing the roll inside and manually pulling the paper segments out of the housing.

The method further comprises dispensing the paper roll from the housing by threading the roll through a narrow slit placed across the lateral length of the soft, collapsible housing and manually pulling the paper segments out of the housing.

Lastly, another embodiment of the method includes compressing and expanding the apparatus into a user designated length in order for the apparatus to accommodate a variety of differently sized paper rolls.

While the apparatus and method has or will be described for the sake of grammatical fluidity with functional explanations, it is to be expressly understood that the claims, unless expressly formulated under 35 USC 112, are not to be construed as necessarily limited in any way by the construction of “means” or “steps” limitations, but are to be accorded the full scope of the meaning and equivalents of the definition provided by the claims under the judicial doctrine of equivalents, and in the case where the claims are expressly formulated under 35 USC 112 are to be accorded full statutory equivalents under 35 USC 112. The invention can be better visualized by turning now to the following drawings wherein like elements are referenced by like numerals.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the device with the soft cover flap pulled back exposing the inner components of the device.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the device with the soft cover flap secured into place and with the additional embodiment of having a narrow slit across the soft cover flap with paper towels dispensed there from.

FIG. 3A is a front plan view in enlarged scale showing the inner components of the device and specifically the embodiment where the center rod that comprises one integral rigid rod.

FIG. 3B is a front plan view in enlarged scale showing the inner components of the device and specifically the embodiment where the center rod comprises two reduced length end rods for insertion into the paper roll, which rods are coupled to each end terminal of the device.

FIG. 3C is a front plan view in enlarged scale showing the inner components of the device and specifically the embodiment where the center rod comprises a telescoping rod.

The invention and its various embodiments can now be better understood by turning to the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments which are presented as illustrated examples of the invention defined in the claims. It is expressly understood that the invention as defined by the claims may be broader than the illustrated embodiments described below.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Paper towels have offered an easy and convenient way of cleaning up after one's self in the home for a long time. Everything from soaking up spills, wiping off windows, and dusting furniture can be accomplished by using a paper towel. The illustrated embodiment of the invention solves the problem of bringing the ease of use and versatility that paper towels provide for the home to places outdoors or out of the indoor setting, such as an automobile, backpack, or campsite by enclosing the roll in a soft, collapsible cover that protects it from the outside environment while still maintaining the roll dry and clean, and the ability to withdraw sheets from the roll and maintaining its utility.

The apparatus 10 is illustrated in perspective view in FIGS. 1 and 2. The apparatus 10 is cylindrical in shape and is comprised of end panels 16 and 14 and a flexible or movable cover flap 12. The apparatus 10 and its outside components are preferably made out of a semi-rigid or stiffened material such as plastic, treated fabric, or a composite of sheet materials that are yet soft and collapsible. However, it is to be understood that the scope and spirit of the invention also includes material which is completely soft or flexible and which is spatially supported in shape only by the underlying paper roll and its rod 20 and terminations 18 discussed below. The semi-rigid material is also water resistant or has a water resistant coating applied to it. The apparatus 10 is long enough to accommodate a standard paper towel roll of about 12 inches or less and has a diameter large enough to accommodate various sizes of paper towels as different brands have different thicknesses and diameters.

FIG. 1 also depicts the inside structure of apparatus 10 when soft cover flap 12 is pulled back along a crease or line 32. Attached to or through each of the end panels 16 and 14 are end terminals 18. The end terminals 18 are made out of any suitable lightweight material such as metal, plastic, plastic composite, or wood and may be coupled to their respective end panels 16 or 14 by any means that firmly holds the end terminal 18 in place and supports the weight of a roll of paper towels, such as glue, heat bonding, or being sewn or embedded into the semi-rigid material of panel 14 or 16 itself.

In the embodiment illustrated by FIGS. 1 and 3A, a center rod 20 is coupled to the end terminal 18 embedded into end panel 16. The center rod 20 is comprised of the same or different material as the end terminals 18 such as metal, wood, or plastic and is permanently attached to end terminal 18 in end panel 16 or alternatively, can be detached from the end terminal 18 and removed to aid in storing the apparatus 10 when not in use. In the embodiment of FIG. 1 rod 20 substantially spans the entire length of apparatus 10. After a roll of paper towels has been spooled onto center rod 20 and slid down the center rod 20 until the roll meets end panel 16, the free portion of the center rod 20 that extends out of the end of the roll of paper towels is then coupled to the other end terminal 18 in or on end panel 14. The center rod 20 may be coupled to end terminals 18 in end panels 14 and 16 by any means sufficient enough to hold a roll of paper towels and center rod 20 securely in place including magnets, clasps, threaded couplings, friction fits, or as depicted in FIG. 3A, a friction fit female receiver 34 and a male peg 36. Once the paper towel roll has been properly secured, the user pulls the lead towels off the roll by hand while the roll rotates around the center rod 20 like a conventional paper towel mount or device. One end 18a is adapted or shaped to provide a knob or other means for allowing the user to hold or steady the apparatus 10. The opposing end 18b is adapted or shaped to act as a base or stand to allow the apparatus 10 to stand vertically on its own. In this manner, dispensing of the sheets from the roll by providing stability for apparatus 10 during dispensing is facilitated.

Also depicted by FIG. 1 are the receiving units 24 and the securing units 22 of apparatus 10. The receiving units 24 are coupled to the material just below the opening of apparatus 10 and the securing units 22 are coupled to the underside of cover flap 12. The opening is created in the embodiment of FIG. 1 when soft cover flap 12 is folded back. When the apparatus 10 is not in use or when greater protection of the paper towels is desired, soft cover flap 12 is pulled down until the securing units 22 meet and engage the receiving units 24. The receiving units 24 lock in the securing units 22 and effectively close the apparatus 10 and form a protective seal around the paper towels as depicted in FIG. 2. The securing units 22 and the receiving units 24 are any known coupling system such as a zip-lock tongue and groove sealing line, Velcro, friction or pop fittings, buttons and button holes, hooks and clasps, ties and any other type of connection now known or later devised.

FIG. 2 shows an embodiment of the invention where a narrow slit 26 is defined along the front of the soft cover flap 12. After a roll of paper towels has been placed on the center rod 20 and the soft cover flap 12 has been secured into the closed position, the lead sheets of the paper towel roll 28 shown in broken lines in FIG. 2 are then pulled through slit 26 and soft flap 12 is closed or secured shut. This embodiment allows the user of apparatus 10 to dispense paper towels directly from the device without having to open and close soft cover flap 12 repeatedly and adds further protection to the roll from the outside environment. Also shown by FIG. 2 is the carrying handle 30 of the apparatus 10. The handle 30 is rigid and made out of plastic or other composite material, or is soft and collapsible and comprised of a durable fabric such as leather or nylon.

It is to be understood that apparatus 10 can also be constructed so that one or more of the end panels 16 are detachable or openable so that the roll of paper towels can be loaded over rod 20 from the end of apparatus 10 without the necessity for a cover flap 12. In such a case the towels would then be dispensed from the roll through a slit 26 in the side of apparatus 10 with no flap 12 being provided and the end panel 16 reattached or closed.

FIGS. 3A, 3B, and 3C depict different embodiments for the center rod 20 which aids in the dispensation of the paper towels and the collapsibility of the device. FIG. 3B shows two reduced length center rods 38 that are coupled to end terminals 18 in end panels 16 and 14. The reduced length center rods 38 are comprised of metal, wood, or plastic and are coupled to the end terminals 18 in the same manner as the center rod 20 disclosed above. FIG. 3C depicts the use of a telescoping center rod 40. The telescoping rod 40 is comprised of a lightweight material, preferably plastic, and is capable of being detached from the apparatus 10 at both ends. The telescoping rod 40 also couples to the end terminals 18 in the same manner as center rod 20 disclosed above. Both the reduced length rods 38 and the telescoping rod 40 aid in making the apparatus 10 more compact and easier to pack or store when not in use.

In another embodiment, the apparatus 10 is capable of accommodating different sized papers rolls or alternatively, a toilet tissue sized roll of about 4.5 inches in length or less by physical manipulation of the apparatus 10 by the user. In this embodiment, the soft cover flap 12 is comprised of a pleated material such as plastic or other composite that is capable of being contracted to the necessary length to accommodate a toilet tissue roll, then expanded back out to the previous length for dispensing paper towels should the need arise. For example, in this embodiment the cylindrical side surfaces of apparatus 10 are provided with at least one and preferably a plurality of circular or helically formed collapsible pleats or folds that allow the longitudinal length of apparatus 10 to contract and expand like an accordion. Additionally, as a further embodiment end panels 16 and 18 may be provided with at least one and preferably a plurality of circular or helically patterned collapsible pleats or folds centered around the center of circular end panels 16 and 18 that allow the diameter of apparatus 10 to contract and expand. The expansible character of apparatus 10 could also be provided by using stretchable materials in whole or part for the material covering the paper roll. Still further, the material may have a waffled surface to allow stretching and flattening of the material when needed. The paper towel roll or toilet tissue roll rotates around on a telescoping rod 40 as depicted in FIG. 3C. The telescoping rod 40 when used in conjunction with the pleated collapsible cover flap 12 allow the user of the apparatus 10 to select which type of paper they would like protected and kept clean depending on the circumstances. For example, a user going on a hiking trip may first want to keep a roll of paper towels in the apparatus 10 while traveling in an automobile on the way to his destination. Once he has arrived, the user could remove the paper towel roll, insert a toilet tissue roll and compress the collapsible cover flap 12 and telescoping rod 40 down to the size of the said toilet tissue roll and easily pack the device in a backpack. After hiking, the device could then be modified once again to switch out the toilet tissue roll for the paper towel roll for the automobile ride home by stretching out the collapsible cover flap 12 and telescoping rod 40 to the original length. It is in this fashion that users of the device could switch back and forth between two distinctly different sized paper rolls to fit the current circumstances using the same apparatus for each.

It is to be expressly understood that the applicant further envisions that the apparatus 10 and all of its components and various embodiments for the center rod 20 as disclosed above be specified for the use of storing and dispensing a toilet tissue sized roll. In other words, in one embodiment apparatus 10 is manufactured and designed to only store and dispense paper rolls that are approximately 4.5 inches in length or less and the size of apparatus 10 cannot be physically manipulated or changed by the user in order to fit any larger type of paper roll. This reduced size apparatus performs in the exact manner as disclosed above and depicted in FIG. 1, namely that is soft and collapsible but only on a smaller scale. The various embodiments disclosed above for the paper towel sized version including the dispensing slit 26 depicted in FIG. 2, and the multiple types of center rods 20, 38, and 40 as depicted in FIGS. 3A, 3B, and 3C respectively, are all applied to the current embodiment.

In all of the embodiments of the invention it is preferable that the paper roll be placed into the containment of the apparatus so that the roll is dispensed from the bottom of the roll. In other words, when the roll is spooled into the embodiment of FIG. 1 the sheets are pulled off from the bottom of the roll so that the pull on the sheet tends to lift the roll or at least decrease the force between the roll and the inside of the soft material covering. This reduces the frictional force or drag on the paper as it is being dispensed allowing the sheet to be pulled freely from the roll without the tendency to tear the sheets from the roll on their perforated divisions prematurely. In this regard it is also contemplated that the inside surface of apparatus 10 may be smooth or provided with a low friction coating, such as Teflon, to further facilitate unrolling of the sheet from the roll under the weight of the roll in apparatus 10. In the embodiment where the material is pleated or folded, the amount of interior surface available for frictional contact with the roll is inherently reduced. To this end, the invention includes the embodiment were internal ribbing, rails or standoffs are provided in or on the interior surface of the collapsible material to reduce the area of frictional contact with the roll even in those embodiments where there is no pleating or folded of the material.

Many alterations and modifications may be made by those having ordinary skill in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Therefore, it must be understood that the illustrated embodiment has been set forth only for the purposes of example and that it should not be taken as limiting the invention as defined by the following invention and its various embodiments.

Therefore, it must be understood that the illustrated embodiment has been set forth only for the purposes of example and that it should not be taken as limiting the invention as defined by the following claims. For example, notwithstanding the fact that the elements of a claim are set forth below in a certain combination, it must be expressly understood that the invention includes other combinations of fewer, more or different elements, which are disclosed in above even when not initially claimed in such combinations. A teaching that two elements are combined in a claimed combination is further to be understood as also allowing for a claimed combination in which the two elements are not combined with each other, but may be used alone or combined in other combinations. The excision of any disclosed element of the invention is explicitly contemplated as within the scope of the invention.

The words used in this specification to describe the invention and its various embodiments are to be understood not only in the sense of their commonly defined meanings, but to include by special definition in this specification structure, material or acts beyond the scope of the commonly defined meanings. Thus if an element can be understood in the context of this specification as including more than one meaning, then its use in a claim must be understood as being generic to all possible meanings supported by the specification and by the word itself.

The definitions of the words or elements of the following claims are, therefore, defined in this specification to include not only the combination of elements which are literally set forth, but all equivalent structure, material or acts for performing substantially the same function in substantially the same way to obtain substantially the same result. In this sense it is therefore contemplated that an equivalent substitution of two or more elements may be made for any one of the elements in the claims below or that a single element may be substituted for two or more elements in a claim. Although elements may be described above as acting in certain combinations and even initially claimed as such, it is to be expressly understood that one or more elements from a claimed combination can in some cases be excised from the combination and that the claimed combination may be directed to a subcombination or variation of a subcombination.

Insubstantial changes from the claimed subject matter as viewed by a person with ordinary skill in the art, now known or later devised, are expressly contemplated as being equivalently within the scope of the claims. Therefore, obvious substitutions now or later known to one with ordinary skill in the art are defined to be within the scope of the defined elements.

The claims are thus to be understood to include what is specifically illustrated and described above, what is conceptionally equivalent, what can be obviously substituted and also what essentially incorporates the essential idea of the invention.