Title:
SEMI-COLLAPSIBLE CONTAINER
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A semi-collapsible container has a hollow body with support and collapsible portions, and can be maintained in a collapsed or an expanded condition. The container is useful for storing liquid, and is especially adapted in its collapsed condition for storing substantially small volumes of concentrated liquid, powders or the like, and in its expanded condition for containing larger volumes of liquid. Filling the container with a liquid causes the collapsible portion to move from the collapsed condition to the expanded condition.



Inventors:
Stanca, Nick E. (Westlake, OH, US)
Nottingham, John R. (Bratenahl, OH, US)
Spirk, John (Gates Mills, OH, US)
Kalman, Jeffrey (Cleveland Heights, OH, US)
Application Number:
13/362685
Publication Date:
08/02/2012
Filing Date:
01/31/2012
Assignee:
NOTTINGHAM SPIRK DESIGN ASSOCIATES, INC. (Cleveland, OH, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
141/2, 222/107
International Classes:
B65B1/04; B65D90/02; B65D35/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PATEL, BRIJESH V
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP (Cleveland, OH, US)
Claims:
1. A semi-collapsible container capable of moving between a collapsed condition and an expanded condition, comprising: a support portion having an exterior surface and an interior cavity; a collapsible portion having an exterior surface and an interior cavity that cooperates with the interior cavity of the support portion to define at least a portion of a hollow interior of the container, wherein the collapsible portion is adapted to move between a substantially expanded condition and a substantially collapsed condition in which the collapsible portion is inverted into the interior cavity of the support portion; a dispenser portion communicating with the hollow interior of the container; a hinge connecting the collapsible portion to at least the support portion; wherein the hinge and the collapsible portion are configured such that filling the container with a liquid when the collapsible portion is in said substantially collapsed condition causes the collapsible portion to move from the substantially collapsed condition to the substantially expanded condition.

2. The semi-collapsible container of claim 1 wherein the support portion, the collapsible portion, and the hinge are all made from the same material.

3. The semi-collapsible container of claim 2 wherein said same material is a homogeneous blend of HDPE and LDPE.

4. The semi-collapsible container of claim 1 wherein the support portion is configured such that the support portion does not bend as filling of the container with a liquid moves the collapsible portion from the substantially collapsed condition to the substantially expanded condition.

5. The semi-collapsible container of claim 1 wherein the collapsible portion includes a stabilizing structure that is configured to engage a flat, horizontal support surface when the collapsible portion is in the substantially expanded condition and the semi-collapsible container is placed on the flat, horizontal support surface.

6. The semi-collapsible container of claim 1 wherein the stabilizing portion extends downward from a middle of the collapsible portion.

7. The semi-collapsible container of claim 1 further comprising a neck portion extending from the support portion to the dispenser portion.

8. A method of filling a semi-collapsible container comprising: filling the container with a liquid when a collapsible portion of the container is in a substantially collapsed condition in which the collapsible portion is inverted into an interior cavity of a support portion; wherein only said filling causes the collapsible portion to move from the substantially collapsed condition to a substantially expanded condition where the collapsible portion is disposed outside said interior cavity of the support portion.

9. The method of claim 8 wherein a concentrate is provided in the container when the container is in the substantially collapsed condition prior to filling the container with liquid.

10. The method of claim 8 wherein said liquid is a diluting liquid and filling the container such that the collapsible portion moves from the substantially collapsed condition to the substantially expanded condition provides a predetermined correct amounting diluting liquid to the concentrate.

11. The method of claim 8 wherein the entire container is made from a single material.

12. The method of claim 11 wherein said single material is a homogeneous blend of HDPE and LDPE.

13. The method of claim 8 wherein the support portion is configured such that the support portion does not bend as filling of the container with a liquid moves the collapsible portion from the substantially collapsed condition to the substantially expanded condition.

14. The method of claim 8 wherein the container is filled on a flat, horizontal support surface.

15. The method of claim 14 further comprising engaging the flat, horizontal support with the collapsible portion when the collapsible portion moves to the substantially expanded condition.

16. The method of claim 15 wherein the collapsible portion includes a stabilizing portion that extends downward from a middle of the collapsible portion into engagement with the flat, horizontal surface when the collapsible portion moves to the substantially expanded condition.

17. A semi-collapsible container capable of moving between a collapsed condition and an expanded condition, comprising: a support portion having an exterior surface and an interior cavity; a collapsible means for moving from a substantially collapsed condition to a substantially expanded condition when the container is filled with a liquid.

18. The semi-collapsible container of claim 17 wherein the support portion and the collapsible portion are made from the same material.

19. The semi-collapsible container of claim 17 wherein the collapsible means includes a stabilizing structure that is configured to engage a flat, horizontal support surface when the collapsible means is in the substantially expanded condition and the semi-collapsible container is placed on the flat, horizontal support surface.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application claims the benefit of U.S. provisional application Ser. No. 61/437,822, filed on Jan. 31, 2011, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The invention is generally applicable to semi-collapsible containers. More specifically, the invention is applicable to semi-collapsible containers that expand from a relatively minimum internal volume to a larger internal volume to accommodate the addition of liquid or liquid-based solutions. The containers are particularly useful for storage of liquid concentrates, powders and the like in the collapsed condition, and upon addition of a diluting liquid, for the containment of the diluted contents in the expanded condition.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Many consumer and industrial products are composed of active ingredients dissolved in solvents, such as water. These types of products have traditionally been sold preformulated and packaged by the manufacturer. This is to say that the manufacturer dissolves the active ingredients in a solvent, packages the resulting solution in a container, and markets the product to its consumer or industrial clients. This method provides for a fully constituted end product; however, the method also maximizes the volume and weight of the product, which is often undesirable. There is a general need to provide apparatus and methods of providing liquid-based solutions to the market while decreasing the weight of the product and space needed to store the product.

The minimization of weight and volume of products is advantageous to manufacturers, retailers and consumers. The manufacturer can reduce the costs of shipping products by reducing the overall weight and cargo volume of shipments. The manufacturer can also improve the shelf life of certain products by eliminating diluting liquids such as water. Retailers can display goods using less shelf space and reduce the physical workload on employees who stock the shelves. Consumers can more easily handle the lighter products and store them more conveniently in their homes or businesses prior to using the product.

One method of achieving these goals is to sell only the active ingredients. A consumer can purchase the active ingredients and wait until the product is needed to add the solvent and constitute the final product. This method achieves the goal of reducing weight of the product and storage space of the product. However, this method inconveniences the consumer if an adequate package for accommodating the additional liquid is not provided with the concentrated ingredient. Not only does an adequate container need to accommodate the proper volume, it must also be made of material that is safe when brought into contact with the active ingredients, and it must be designed for appropriate and safe dispensing of the diluted contents. The design of a container can minimize splashing during pouring or make dispensing small amounts easier. In the absence of an appropriate container, the consumer may have difficulty in utilizing the concentrated product correctly, efficiently, and in some instances, safely. Accordingly, a need exists for consumer product packaging that allows manufacturers to provide products in a concentrated form that minimizes weight and volume, potentially improves product shelf life, and insures the contained product is used conveniently, safely and efficiently by the consumer.

SUMMARY

The present application discloses exemplary embodiments of a semi-collapsible container. In one exemplary embodiment, the semi-collapsible container has a hollow body with support and collapsible portions. The collapsible portion can be maintained in a collapsed or an expanded condition. The container is useful for storing liquid, and is especially adapted in its collapsed condition for storing substantially small volumes of concentrated liquid, powders or the like, and in its expanded condition for containing larger volumes of liquid. In one exemplary embodiment, filling the container with a liquid causes the collapsible portion to move from the collapsed condition to the expanded condition.

Features and advantages of the invention will be set forth in part in the description which follows, and in part will be obvious from the description, or may be learned by practice of the invention. The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate several embodiments of the invention, and together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of one embodiment of a semi-collapsible container;

FIG. 2 shows another perspective view of the embodiment of the semi-collapsible container in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3A shows a top view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 3B shows a bottom view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 3C shows a side view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 4A shows a perspective view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 4B shows another perspective view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 4C shows a side view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 5A shows a cut away side view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an extended condition;

FIG. 5B shows an enlarged portion of the semi-collapsible container as indicated in FIG. 5A to show the detail of a hinge structure;

FIG. 5C shows a cut away side view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 5D is a cut away top view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 5E is a cut away top view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIG. 1 in a collapsed condition.

FIG. 6 shows a perspective view of another embodiment of a semi-collapsible container;

FIG. 7 shows another perspective view of the embodiment of the semi-collapsible container in FIG. 6 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 8 shows a perspective view of the embodiment of the semi-collapsible container in FIG. 7 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 9A shows a front view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIGS. 6-8;

FIG. 9B shows the corresponding side view;

FIG. 9C shows the corresponding top view;

FIG. 10A shows a rear view of the semi-collapsible container shown in FIGS. 6-8 and 9A-9C; FIG. 10B shows the corresponding side view; and FIG. 10C shows the corresponding bottom view;

FIG. 11 shows a perspective view of another embodiment of a semi-collapsible container in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 12 shows a perspective view of the embodiment of the semi-collapsible container in FIG. 11 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 13 is a front perspective view of another embodiment of a semi-collapsible container in an expanded condition;

FIG. 14 is a rear perspective view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 15 is a front view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13;

FIG. 15A is a top view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 16 is a right side view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 16A is a left side view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 17 is a bottom view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 18 is a rear view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in an expanded condition;

FIG. 19 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 19-19 in FIG. 15;

FIG. 20 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 20-20 in FIG. 15;

FIG. 21 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 21-21 in FIG. 15;

FIG. 22 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 22-22 in FIG. 15;

FIG. 22A is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 22A-22A in FIG. 18;

FIG. 23 is an enlarged view as indicated in FIG. 20;

FIG. 24 is a front perspective view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 13 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 25 is a rear perspective view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 26 is a front view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24;

FIG. 26A is a top view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 27 is a right side view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 27A is a left side view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 28 is a bottom view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 29 is a rear view of the semi-collapsible container of FIG. 24 in a collapsed condition;

FIG. 30 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 30-30 in FIG. 26; and

FIG. 31 is a sectional view taken along the plane indicated by lines 31-31 in FIG. 26.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention will now be described with occasional reference to specific embodiments of the invention. This invention may, however, be embodied in different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will fully convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art.

Except as otherwise specifically defined herein, all terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. The terminology used in the description of the invention herein is for describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to be limiting of the invention. As used in the description of the invention, the singular forms “a,” “an,” and “the” are intended to include the plural forms as well, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.

Unless otherwise indicated, all numbers expressing quantities, properties, and so forth as used in the specification are to be understood as being modified in all instances by the term “about.” Accordingly, unless otherwise indicated, the numerical properties set forth in the following specification are approximations that may vary depending on the desired properties sought to be obtained in embodiments of the present invention. Notwithstanding that the numerical ranges and parameters setting forth the broad scope of the invention are approximations, the numerical values to the extent that such are set forth in the specific examples are reported as precisely as possible. Any numerical values, however, inherently contain certain errors necessarily resulting from error found in their respective measurements.

Except as otherwise indicated, the disclosure of all patents, patent applications (and any patents which issue thereon, as well as any corresponding published foreign patent applications), and publications mentioned throughout this description are hereby incorporated by reference herein. It is expressly not admitted, however, that any of the documents incorporated by reference herein teach or disclose the present invention.

The invention is directed, in various embodiments, to a semi-collapsible container for storing and dispensing products in their concentrated and diluted forms. The terms “collapsible” and “semi-collapsible” are used to refer to any space within a container that is effectively reducible in its size or internal volume by the application of mechanical force to distort its shape, such as by inverting a portion of the container to fold over another portion. The container is capable of expanding from a substantially collapsed condition to a substantially expanded condition to accommodate the addition of liquid or other material, and has a hollow body made substantially of an appropriate material, such as a thermoplastic material. In one exemplary embodiment, the container is configured such that the addition of liquid or other material alone causes the container to expand from the substantially collapsed condition to the substantially expanded condition.

According to various embodiments, the semi-collapsible container of the instant invention includes a hollow interior that is capable of storing liquid when the container is in both its collapsed and expanded conditions. A dispenser is in communication with the hollow interior. A base or support portion and a collapsible portion form the hollow interior of the container.

In some embodiments, the container is collapsible so that its front profile is essentially the same regardless of whether the container is in its collapsed or expanded condition. In some embodiments, the base or support portion is much more rigid than the collapsible portion. As used herein, the terms rigid and essentially rigid refer to material properties that influence the stiffness of portions of the container. For certain embodiments in which the size and volumes of containers are large, rigidity of portions of the container will influence the ability of the container when filled with liquid to resist deformation caused by the weight of the fluid.

The collapsible portion is adapted to be physically movable relative to the support portion between an expanded position and a collapsed position. When the collapsible portion is in the expanded position, the internal volume defined by the cavity of the collapsible portion is available to accommodate liquid or other contents within the interior of the container. When the collapsible portion is in the collapsed position, the collapsible portion is not expanded, and is in some embodiments inverted into the interior cavity of the support portion such that the cavities of the collapsible and support portions are at least partially nested. In other embodiments, the collapsible portion is in a relaxed, flattened, folded or partially inverted state. In the various embodiments, the collapsible portion in its collapsed state effectively reduces the internal volume of the container available to accommodate liquid or other contents.

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of one embodiment of a semi-collapsible container. Referring to FIG. 1, the container 100 has an upper end 105 with a dispenser 110 therein, and a lower support base 115 for supporting the container in both its collapsed and expanded conditions when resting in a generally upright position on a surface. The container has a support portion 120 having an interior cavity (125, see FIG. 2) that defines a portion of the total volume of the container. The container 100 also has at least one collapsible portion 130 with a shape that defines a cavity (135, see FIG. 2) that influences the total internal volume of the container. The collapsible portion 130 is adapted to move between a substantially expanded position and a substantially collapsed position. In the expanded condition, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes positively to the total volume of the container 100. In the collapsed condition, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes negatively to the total volume of the container 100. As can be seen in FIG. 3, the collapsible portion 130 in this embodiment appears to protrude from the side of the support portion 120 when in an expanded position.

A container 100 according to the instant invention is formed of one or more materials that are suited to use in the expanded and collapsed conditions. The particular material is generally selected to be compatible with the intended contents of a container 100. As discussed more fully below, a container 100 may be manufactured by one of a variety of methods of making containers that are well known in the art. Good results are obtained producing hollow containers using extrusion blow molding techniques with a variety of thermoplastic and elastomeric materials. Accordingly, in various embodiments according to the instant invention, a container 100 may be made from one or a combination of thermoplastic or elastomeric materials, such as: polyesters, Polycarbonate (PC), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), polyester terphthalate, butadiene-styrene co-polymers, polyamides, ethylene-vinyl-alcohol copolymer, polyethylene napthaphthalate, thermoplastic and thermosetting resins, polybutylene terephthalate, polyoxymethylenes, polyphenylene, polyphenylene sulfides, polyphenylene oxides, polymethylmethacrylate, polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), polyvinylidenechloride, polymethylpentene-1, nylon 6, nylon 66, Polyethylene Terephthalate Modified with CHDM (PETG), and mixtures thereof.

Use of thermoplastic or elastomeric materials in making the container 100 permits the selection of a broad range of possible material properties, including the properties of rigidity, flexibility, elasticity, thermal and chemical resistance, electrical resistance/conductance, mechanical abrasion resistance, catalytic surface activity, color, transparency/opacity, reflectivity, and texture. According to some embodiments of the invention, the container 100 is made entirely from one material that has uniform properties. According to other embodiments of the invention, the container 100 is made entirely from one material that has varying properties in various parts of the container 100. For example, the same thermoplastic or elastomeric material may be selected for the entire container 100 but the percentages of functional components in each may be varied to provide varied properties at discrete portions of the container 100. Similarly, in yet other embodiments, two or more different thermoplastic or elastomeric materials may be selected for the container 100, each forming a discrete portion of the container 100. According to such embodiments, portions such as the collapsible portion 130 and the support portion 120 of the container 100 may vary in properties.

In one exemplary embodiment, both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 100, and the junction therebetween, are made from the same material. For example, the entire container 100 may be blow molded from a homogenious blend of HDPE and LDPE, with the majority of the blend comprising LDPE. For example, the blend may comprise 85-95% LDPE and 5-15% HDPE. In one exemplary embodiment, the blend comprises 90% or about 90% LDPE and 10% or about 10% HDPE. Applicant has found that this homogeneous blend of LDPE and HDPE allows the container to be blow molded from a single material, while still allowing the collapsible portion 130 to be moved from the collapsed condition to the extended position, simply by filling the container with a liquid, such as water. The rigidity of the support portion 120 may be controlled in this embodiment by selecting appropriate geometric features that enhance stiffness. This is discussed in more detail below with respect to the embodiment illustrated by FIGS. 13-31.

In one embodiment, the material of the support portion 120 has the property of being more rigid than the material of the collapsible portion 130, either by varying the functional components of the same material or by varying the materials. One such embodiment of the invention is a container made up of two portions with each portion manufactured from a different material. The support portion 120 is made of a semi-rigid material, of the type that is commonly used for containers that are known in the art for containing products such as juices, or automotive fluids. Typically, such material is a clear or opaque thermoplastic. The semi-rigid material is rigid enough to maintain a given shape whether there are contents in the container or the container is empty. However, the material is not so rigid that a force applied to the material would not cause some deformation. The collapsible portion 130 of the container 100 is made of a pliant material. The pliant material generally adjusts to take the shape of the substance inside the container 100. An example of such an embodiment is a container 100 in which the material of the support portion comprises a blend of LDPE and HDPE, and wherein the material of the collapsible portion comprises one of LDPE and a blend of LDPE and HDPE. Of course a very large number of combinations of materials can be combined in making a container according to the instant invention. In additional embodiments of the invention, the collapsible portion 130 can be made of an elastic material that stretches as liquid is added to the container 100. The elastic nature of the material could more accurately adjust to the shape of the contents of the container and potentially further minimize the exterior dimensions of the container. In addition, these embodiments could make it easier for an end user to dispense the product from the container 100.

Referring now to FIG. 2, the container 100 is shown in cutaway perspective view in an expanded condition. In the expanded condition, the container 100 has an internal volume that includes the volumes provided by the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120 and the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130. The container 100 is particularly useful for storing liquid, and other flowable materials, and in its collapsed condition, the container 100 is especially adapted for storing relatively small volumes of products such as concentrated liquids, powders or the like, the products occupying minimal space and having a minimal weight relative to their diluted forms. In its expanded condition, the container 100 is especially adapted for receiving and containing larger volumes of liquid or other flowable materials which may be added by the consumer of the contained product to dilute the concentrated product contents. In an exemplary embodiment, the addition of the liquid by the consumer causes the collapsible portion 130 to automatically move from the collapsed condition to the fully extended position. Addition of diluting liquids and dispensing of the contained product from the container is achieved via the dispenser 110 in the container 100, and the container 100 is secured from leakage via a closure means 150 that is coupled to the dispenser 110.

Referring now to FIGS. 3A-3C, various perspectives of the container 100 in an expanded condition are shown. FIG. 3A provides a top view of the container 100 as illustrated in FIG. 1, in an expanded condition, and shows a top segment 131 of the collapsible portion 130 and the upper end 105 of the container 100. FIG. 3B provides a corresponding bottom view of the container 100, and shows the bottom segment 132 of the collapsible portion 130 and a base 115 of the support portion 120. FIG. 3C provides a side view of the container 100 in an expanded condition, and shows the relative shapes, sizes and configurations of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 according to one possible embodiment of the container 100. Referring to FIG. 3C, the support portion 120 is formed of a substantially vertical wall, which in some embodiments includes a vertical front wall 121, and in some embodiments, as depicted in FIG. 3, the support portion 120 also includes two substantially vertical sidewalls 122 and 122′ (122′ not shown), and a back wall 123. In alternate embodiments of the container 100, the support portion 120 may comprise a different configuration of substantially vertical wall or walls around its periphery, as dictated by the overall shape of the container, as discussed more fully below.

Still referring to FIG. 3C, the collapsible portion 130 also includes a substantially vertical sidewall 133 which is bounded on the top by the top segment 131 and on the bottom by the bottom segment 132. In alternate embodiments of the container 100, the collapsible portion 130 may comprise a different configuration of substantially vertical wall or walls, as dictated by the overall shape of the container, as discussed more fully below. As can be seen in the various views of FIGS. 3A-3C, the total volume of the container 100 includes the volumes contributed by the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120 and the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130; thus, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 makes a positive contribution to the volume of the container 100 in the expanded condition.

According to some embodiments, when in the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 130 is inverted into the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120, as depicted in the various views provided in FIGS. 4A-4C. As can be seen, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 is nested within the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120. According to the depicted embodiment of the container 100, when the cavities of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions are nested, the substantially vertical walls 121, 122, and 122′ of the support portion 120 and the substantially vertical wall 133 of the collapsible portion 130 are moved adjacent to one another, and are in some embodiments at least partially in contact. Likewise, in the collapsed condition, the bottom segment 132 of the collapsible portion 130 and the lower support base 115 are moved adjacent to one another, and are in some embodiments at least partially in contact. Of course it will be appreciated that in other embodiments, the position of the collapsible portion 130 relative to that of the support portion 120 may vary; for instance, the collapsible portion 130 may be in a flattened or relaxed state, it may be folded, creased or otherwise positioned without being inverted or nested within the support portion 120.

Of course it will be understood, as more fully discussed below, that the overall shape of each of the nested cavities 125 and 135 of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions will influence the extent to which the segments of the container 100 are adjacent to or in contact when the container 100 is in the collapsed condition. When the cavities 125 and 135 of the support 120 and collapsible 130 portions are nested, the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 contributes negatively to the total volume of the container 100 by effectively reducing the total volume of the container by the volume of the cavity 135 of the collapsible portion 130 and by at least a portion of the volume of the internal cavity 125 of the support portion 120. The extent of the volume reduction of the internal cavity 125 of the support portion 120 is influenced by the overall dimensions and shape of the collapsible portion 120.

In various embodiments, the container 100 according to the invention is capable of being manipulated between a collapsed and an expanded condition. The collapsible portion 130 is moved between an expanded position and a collapsed position by actuation of a hinge structure located at the interface 200 between the collapsible portion 130 and the support portion 120. As noted above in relation to FIG. 4, when in the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 130 is inverted into the interior cavity 125 of the support portion 120. Referring again to FIG. 4, panel B provides a rear perspective view of the container 100 illustrated in FIG. 1, in a collapsed condition, and shows the interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 (which is inverted, and nested within the cavity 125 of the support portion 120). The hinge structure 250 is positioned substantially at the interface 200, and is adapted to permit the movement of the collapsible portion 130 between the expanded and the collapsed positions.

Referring still to FIG. 4B, as shown in the depicted embodiment, the hinge structure 250 is integral with the container 100 and is adapted to maintain a watertight seal at the interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. Generally, the hinge structure 250 is made of a material that is the same as or similar to the material(s) used to make one or both of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. As shown in the various figures provided herein, the hinge portion 250 may be formed from the same material(s) used to make one or both of the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130. In one exemplary embodiment, the hinge structure 250, the support portion 120, and the collapsible portion are all made from the same material. For example, the entire container 100 may be blow molded from a homogenious blend of HDPE and LDPE, with the majority of the blend comprising LDPE. For example, the blend may comprise 85-95% LDPE and 5-15% HDPE. In one exemplary embodiment, the blend comprises 90% or about 90% LDPE and 10% or about 10% HDPE. The flexibility of the hinge portion 250 and/or the collapsible portion 130 may be controlled in this embodiment by selecting appropriate geometric features that reduce stiffness.

In some embodiments, the hinge structure 250 is a living hinge or living hinge like structure. Examples of hinge shapes and configurations suitable for the hinge structure 250 according to the instant invention include shapes that have one, two, three, four or more bends. Examples of single bend hinges include hinges that are generally “C,” “U,” or “V” shaped. Examples of double bend hinges include hinges that are generally “S,” or “Z” shaped. Yet other hinges with additional bends may be used according to the invention.

According to embodiments of the invention in which the hinge structure 250 is a living hinge, a variety of hinge shapes and types are known in the art and may be selected therefrom. As used herein, the term “living hinge” means a hinge with no moving parts. Living hinges are typically formed of thin segments of plastic that connect two parts of an article to keep them together and allow the article to be opened and closed. The materials used to make a living hinge include very flexible plastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene, and other thermoplastic materials as described herein.

The hinge structure 250 shown in FIG. 5A-5C (and other figures shown herein) is a Z shaped living hinge. FIG. 5A provides a cutaway side view of a container 100 in the expanded condition. FIG. 5A includes a dotted circle in the lower left hand portion corner highlighting the detail of the hinge structure 250. FIG. 5B provides an exploded cut away perspective view of the detailed area from FIG. 5A, showing the Z-shaped living hinge structure 250 of the illustrated embodiment. As can be seen in FIG. 5B, the illustrated portion of the hinge structure 250 is shown adjacent to the lower support base 115 of the container (bottom right of the figure) and the collapsible portion 130 (upper left of the figure). Still referring to FIG. 5B, the depicted hinge has three legs 251, 252, and 253, arranged in series, with leg 251 adjacent and attached to the support portion 120. Leg 252 is positioned between leg 251 and 253, and leg 253 is in turn adjacent to the collapsible portion 130 of the container 100. The illustrated hinge structure 250 allows for the collapsible portion 130 to be inverted from the expanded position by folding along the hinge. FIG. 5C provides a cutaway side view of a container 100 in the collapsed condition, and FIG. 5D and 5E each show a cutaway plan view of the container 100 in the expanded and collapsed conditions, respectively. As can be seen from each of these views, the legs 251 and 252 of the hinge structure 250 intersect to form a hinge edge 255 that extends from the surface of the container 100 around the interface 200 between the support and collapsible portions. In alternate embodiments in which a hinge having fewer than three legs is used, the hinge edge may not be present. In yet other embodiments in which additional hinge legs are used or different hinge configurations are used, a more pronounced or differently shaped hinge edge may be present. The choice of hinge, or of living hinge design, is influenced by the properties of material used, including pliability, rigidity, elasticity and the like. Hinge selection is within the skill of those of ordinary skill in the art.

According to the invention, the container 100 has a shape that is suited to containing liquid and other flowable materials. As such, the overall size, shape and configuration of the container 100 may vary as suited to the intended contents and uses by the consumer of the contained goods. Likewise, the relative proportions of the upper end 105, lower support base 115, support portion 120 and collapsible portion 130 may vary as needed to accommodate contents of varying density, viscosity, etc. For particularly small containers, certain shapes may be favored, such as more streamlined cylindrical shapes. For particularly large containers that will hold larger volumes, and hence be heavier upon addition of solvent, less streamlined and more hefty and ergonomically designed shapes may be favored. One of ordinary skill will appreciate that the overall shape and arrangement of features such as dispensing openings, handles, and other features may be selected as appropriate to the use of the container.

In some embodiments, the container 100 according to the invention has an overall substantially cylindrical shape. In other embodiments, the container 100 has an overall substantially polyhedral shape. In yet other embodiments, portions of the container 100 have a shape that is a combination of cylindrical and polyhedral shapes. For example, in some embodiments, both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 have a substantially cylindrical shape, wherein the support portion 120 has a substantially arcuate vertical wall, and wherein the collapsible portion 130 has a substantially cylindrical vertical face. In other embodiments, both the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 have a substantially polyhedral shape, wherein the support portion 120 has a substantially flat vertical wall bounded by sides that are either substantially flat or rounded, and wherein the collapsible portion 130 has a substantially cylindrical vertical face likewise bounded by sides that are either substantially flat or rounded. And in yet other embodiments, one of the support and collapsible portions 120 and 130, respectively, has a substantially polyhedral shape while the other has a substantially cylindrical shape.

In various embodiments, the collapsible portion 130 according to the invention has top and bottom segments 131 and 132 of varying shapes. In some embodiments, the top segment 131 has a domed shape, and the bottom segment 132 is flattened, as shown in the embodiment of the container 100 depicted, for example, in FIG. 2. In yet other embodiments, the top segment 131 has a squared or peaked shape, and the bottom segment 132 is rounded. In still other embodiments, the segments of the collapsible portion 130 may be baffled or folded, and may be ribbed, rippled or pleated. One of ordinary skill will appreciate that a variety of combinations of shapes and folds may be used for the top and bottom segments 131 and 132 of the collapsible portion 130 of the container 100 according to the instant invention.

Likewise, the vertical wall 121 of the support portion 120 may be formed in the shape of a cylinder, as mentioned above, wherein the vertical wall 121 is substantially continuous and arcuate in shape. In other embodiments, the vertical wall 121 of the support portion 120 may be generally polyhedral in shape, and formed of a substantially flat front wall 121 bounded by substantially flat or curved side walls 122 and 122′ and have a back wall 123 opposing the flat front wall 121, the back wall 123 being substantially flat or curved.

The interface 200 between the support portion 120 and the collapsible portion 130 may have a variety of shapes and configurations. According to the illustrated embodiment of FIG. 4B, the interface 200 is generally arch shaped on the top and squared on the bottom, the shape being formed by the generally domed shape of the top segment 131 and the generally flat shape of the bottom segment 133 of the collapsible portion 130. Of course it will be appreciated that variations in the shape of the segments of the collapsible portion 130 will influence the shape of the interface 200, and that generally any shape will be suitable to accommodate the function of actuating movement of the collapsible portion 130 between the expanded and collapsed positions. More generally, containers, such as bottles, having a variety of shapes are well known in the art, and the design of shaped features are known to those of ordinary skill

Referring again to FIG. 1, the container 100 in accordance with the instant invention has an internal volume that includes the combined volumes of the cavities of the support and collapsible portions. According to the embodiment depicted in FIGS. 1 through 5, the support portion 120 forms at least one half of the surface area of the container 100 and about one half or more of the volume of the container 100; the collapsible portion 130 forms not more than one half of the surface area of the container 100, and about one half or less of its volume. In alternate embodiments, the relative contributions to the container 100 size and volume by each of the collapsible and support portions 130 and 120, respectively, may vary. For example, in some embodiments, the support portion 130 may contribute as little as 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 or 45 percent of the container or its volume. And in other embodiments, the support portion 130 may contribute as much as 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90 or 95 percent of the container or its volume. By varying the sizes, shapes, and relative thickness and rigidity of the collapsible and support portions 130 and 120 of the container 100, a wide variety of container configurations are possible in accordance with the invention.

Referring still to FIG. 1, in its various embodiments, the lower support base 115 and the upper end 105 are on the support portion 120 of the container 100. In various embodiments, the lower support base 115 of the support portion 120 is either substantially rectangular, square, circular, crescent, or disc-like in shape. The illustrated embodiment has a lower support base 115 that is substantially rectangular, as shown in representative FIG. 3B. The support base 115 is in contact with the front wall 121, side walls 122 and 122′ and back wall 123. Other configurations are possible.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the upper end 105 of the container 100 includes a dispenser 110. And in the depicted embodiment, the container 100 also includes a handle 112, although it will be appreciated that in other embodiments such as the one shown in FIGS. 11 and 12, the feature of a handle is not included. In various embodiments, the upper end 105 has a shape that is conducive to efficient dispensing of the contents of the container 100. In the embodiment of FIGS. 6 through 10C, the upper end has a substantially domed shape, with the dispenser positioned at the top of the dome. In other embodiments (not shown), the upper end has a substantially inverted truncated conical shape, with the dispenser positioned at the apex of the cone. And in still other un-shown embodiments, the upper end has a substantially cylindrically shaped neck that is tapered relative to the body of the container, with the dispenser positioned at the top of the neck. It will be appreciated that a wide range of shapes and configurations of bottle tops and dispensers are known in the art and can be adapted for use with the containers of the instant invention.

As mentioned previously, in some embodiments the container 100 has a handle. A handle provides a variety of functions that influence efficient use of the container 100. For particularly large-volume containers, a handle is useful for providing structural support to aid in stacking and weight distribution when the container is filled. A handle is also useful for ergonomic purposes, particularly when the contents are heavy and difficult to dispense merely by grasping the body or neck of the container. Likewise, a handle reduces the need for structural rigidity in the body of the container, which is more important if the container is to be grasped by the body for dispensing. Finally, a handle, when hollow and positioned at or near the top of the container, can aid in venting during dispensing, and thereby improve flow when the contents are dispensed. In embodiments of the container 100 that comprise a handle, the handle 112 may be offset from a central axis of the container, being positioned on the upper end 105 and adjacent to the dispenser 110. In other embodiments, the handle 112 may be positioned on the upper end 105 and inline with the dispenser 110. And in yet other embodiments, the handle 112 may be positioned at some distant location relative to the upper end 105, such as along the vertical wall of the support section 120. And in still other embodiments, the container 100 may have more than one handle 112, each handle being positioned at one or more of the various locations on the container 100, arranged in either a symmetrical or nonsymmetrical relative orientation.

In various embodiments, the container may comprise a closure means 150, as identified in FIG. 2. A variety of closure means for sealing containers and other bottles are well known in the art, and include, but are not limited to openings that have ridges, threads and other structural features for receiving and retaining a closure device, such as a cap or lid. The container 100 may likewise comprise a closure assembly, such as a cap or lid. The closure assembly may be in one or more pieces, and may have features that indicate rupture of a seal, protect against opening by children, or protect against leakage or passage of liquid or vapor into or out of the container 100. According to such various embodiments, the closure assembly may be removably coupled to the container 100, or it may be a single use closure. In some embodiments of the invention, a device, such as a pull ring, may be attached to the outside of the collapsible portion 130 to enable the user to manually pull the collapsible portion 130 away from the body of the container 100 when the container is in a collapsed condition.

FIGS. 6-8 are perspective views of another embodiment of a semi-collapsible container 300 capable of moving between a collapsed condition and an expanded condition. FIG. 7 depicts the container 300 in a collapsed condition and FIG. 8 depicts the container 300 in an expanded condition. Referring to FIGS. 6-8, the container 300 comprises a rounded support portion 320 having an exterior surface and an interior cavity 325 (best shown in FIG. 7) that defines a portion of the total volume of the container 300. The collapsible portion 330 of the container 300 also has an exterior surface and an interior cavity 335 (best shown in FIG. 8). The interior cavity 335 of the collapsible portion 330 cooperates with the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320 to define at least a portion of the hollow interior of the container 300. The collapsible portion 330 is adapted to move between an expanded condition (as shown in FIG. 8) and a collapsed condition (as shown in FIG. 7). In the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 330 is inverted into the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320. A hinge 350 connecting the collapsible portion 325 to the support portion 320 and the base portion 315 allows the collapsible portion 325 to move between the expanded condition and collapsed condition. A dispenser portion 310 positioned at the top of the neck portion 308 communicates with the hollow interior of the container 300 allowing the container 300 to be filled or emptied. In the present embodiment, the container 300 also comprises a handle portion 312 having a first end 312a, which intersects with the support portion 320, and a second end 312b, which intersects with the neck portion 308.

FIGS. 9A-9C are respectively front, side, and top views of the container 300 shown in FIGS. 6-8. Similarly, FIGS. 10A-10C are respectively rear, side, and bottom views of the container 300 shown in FIGS. 6-8 and 9A-9C. As shown in FIG. 9A, the exterior of the support portion 320 comprises a circular front 321, rounded side walls 322a, 322b, a rounded top 305, and a rounded bottom 304. As best shown in FIG. 10A, the support portion 320 also has a substantially flat back 326 and an interior cavity 325. The combined shape of these portions provide the support portion 320 with the overall bowl-like appearance of a pitcher.

When the container 300 is in the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 330 is inverted into the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320. In this condition, the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320 is capable of enclosing items that may be packaged with the container 300. In other words, the void provided by the outwardly facing concavities of the support portion 320 can be used for enclosing items that may be used with the container 300. For example, tools (e.g., pumps, measuring cups or spoons, or dispensing containers), instructions, or even promotional items (e.g., coupons, juice glasses, or toys) may be enclosed in the space. In one embodiment, one or more concentrated products are placed in the interior cavity. For example, the container may be provided with an appropriate amount of a concentrate in the container and one or more refills (i.e. additional packages of the appropriate amount of the concentrate) of the same or different concentrated product in the cavity.

The container 300 can be used to make multiple batches of the mixes products when refills are provided in the cavity 325. For the first use, the user simply fills the container 300 with a diluting liquid, such as water, which automatically moves the collapsible portion of the container from the collapsed position to the expanded position. Filling the container provides the correct amount of diluting liquid to the concentrate. The user then uses the mixed product until the container is empty. Once the container is empty, the user may empty the contents of a refill package that was provided in the cavity 325 of the container into the container and fill the container with the appropriate diluting liquid to make a second batch of the mixture. The user may not need to make any measurements of the concentrate or the diluting liquid, since the appropriate amount of concentrate may be pre-packaged and the volume of the container may determine the appropriate amount of diluting liquid. Multiple batches of the mixture may be made with the container in this manner. This method of providing refills and making additional batches may be performed with any of the containers disclosed by this application.

Items may be enclosed within the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320 by covering the void after the items are placed inside. For example, in certain embodiments, plastic is wrapped around the support portion 320 covering the interior cavity 325 and preventing the items from falling out. In other embodiments, a label is removably attached (e.g., with adhesive, staples, etc.) to the back 326 (best shown in FIG. 10A) of the support portion 320. The label is generally large enough to substantially cover the interior cavity 325 and prevent the items from falling out.

The front profile of the support portion 320 is essentially the same regardless of whether the container 300 is in its collapsed or expanded condition. However, the exterior of the support portion 320 may take many different forms. For example, in the present embodiment, the front 321 of the support portion 320 comprises a substantially flat surface. A substantially flat surface helps to reduce the wrinkling of a label attached to the support portion 320. In other embodiments, the support portion 320 comprises a surface on which an image may be etched. Finally, the front 321 of the support portion 320 may comprise various images formed during the blow molding process.

The support portion 320 may also comprise measuring marks for determining the amount of material inside the container 300. In certain embodiments, the measuring marks are located on the sides 322a, 322b of the support portion 320. However, in other embodiments, the measuring marks are located on the front 321, top 305, bottom 304, and even back 326 of the support portion 320. Finally, in still other embodiments, the collapsible portion 330 (best shown in FIG. 8) of the container 300 comprises measuring marks for determining the amount of material inside the container. These measuring marks may be located only on the collapsible portion 330 or in addition to the measuring marks on the support portion 320 or neck portion 308.

As best shown in FIG. 9C, the dispenser portion 310 of the container 300 has a teardrop shape. In other words, the dispenser 306 is longer longitudinally (i.e., in the direction of the longitudinal axis, L) than transversely (i.e., in the direction of the transverse axis, T) and comprises a pointed end 350a and a rounded end 350b. In the present embodiment, the pointed end 350a of the dispenser 310 forms a spout that helps to reduce spillage when emptying the contents of the container 300. The larger size and shape of the dispenser 310 provides many advantages. For example, emptying the container 300 is easier and no gurgling occurs if the container 300 contains a liquid. In addition, adding materials to the contents of the container 300, such as for example sugar or ice, is much easier with the larger dispenser 310. A larger dispenser 310 also allows for the use of a stiffing tool to mix the contents of the container 300. Finally, filling the container 300 with material is much easier with a larger dispenser 310.

The dispenser portion 310 of the container 300 shown in FIG. 9A further comprises a closure removably coupled to the dispenser 310. The closure helps to prevent spillage when the container 300 is not in use and to keep the contents of the container 300 fresh and free of contamination. In the present embodiment, the closure is a cap 350 that snaps onto the lip of the dispenser 310. The cap 350 has a shape matching the teardrop shape of the dispenser 310. In certain embodiments, a removable pull ring 314 is attached to the closure and the dispenser 310. The pull ring 314 helps to prevent tampering with the container and its contents. In the present embodiment, a removable pull ring 314 is attached to the cap 350 and the dispenser 310. The pull ring 314 is removed by pulling on an end 316 of the pull ring 314 and tearing the seal away from the cap 350 and the dispenser 310.

In certain embodiments, a stiffing tool, such as for example a wand or a spoon, is attached to the closure. The stirring tool is generally attached underneath the closure and extends into the container 300 when the closure is coupled to the dispenser 310.

As best shown in FIG. 9C, the circumference of the dispenser portion 310 in the present embodiment is smaller than the circumference of the top 308a of the neck portion 308. The smaller circumference creates an edge 318 at the intersection of the top 308a of the neck 308 and the dispenser 310. The shape and size of this edge 318 may vary depending on the difference in circumference and location of the dispenser 310 on the top 308a of the neck 308. In certain embodiments, the circumference of the dispenser is actually larger than the circumference of the top of the neck.

As best shown in FIG. 9C, the shape of the dispenser portion 310 in the present embodiment is similar to the shape of the top 308a of the neck portion 308. The shape of the dispenser portion 310 is also similar to the cross sectional shape of the neck portion 308. However, it should be obvious that the cross sectional shape of the neck may differ from the shape of the dispenser. In addition, the top of the neck may be longer longitudinally and/or transversely than the dispenser.

As best shown in FIGS. 9A and 9B, the circumference of the neck portion 308 in the present embodiment decreases from the top 308a of the neck 308 to the middle 308b of the neck 308. Thereafter, the circumference of the neck portion 308 increases from the middle 308b of the neck 308 to the bottom 308c of the neck 308. As best depicted in FIG. 9A, the top 308a of the neck 308 and the bottom 308c of the neck 308 may be wider in the longitudinal direction than the middle 308b of the neck 308. However, in other embodiments, the width of the neck portion in the longitudinal direction will generally increase from the top of the neck to the bottom of the neck. Alternatively, in still other embodiments, the width of the neck portion will generally decrease from the top of the neck to the bottom of the neck. The neck portion 308 may also comprise measuring marks for determining the amount of material inside the container 300.

As best shown in FIGS. 9A-9B and 10A-10C, the support portion 320 extends upwardly from a base portion 315 having a rectangular front 328, two rounded side walls 324a, 324b, and a substantially flat bottom 332. The base 315 is capable of supporting the container 300 in the expanded and collapsed positions. As shown in FIG. 10C, the bottom profile of the base 315 comprises an arcuate portion 334 (the front and side edges) and a straight portion 336 (the back edge). It should be obvious, however, that a base capable of supporting the container in the collapsed and expanded conditions may be many different shapes and sizes.

FIGS. 9A-9C best show the handle portion 312 of the container 300. The shape and configuration of the handle 312 makes it easier to empty and fill the container 300. The handle 312 of the present embodiment has a first end 312a, which intersects with the support portion 320, and a second end 312b, which intersects with the neck 308. As best shown in FIG. 9A, the handle 312 is also arcuate. Starting at the first end 312a, the handle 312 extends upward and away from the support portion 320 and then curves slightly downward to intersect with the neck 308. It should be apparent, however, that the handle may take many forms and intersect with various parts of the container. In the present embodiment, the handle 312 is substantially the same height as the cap 350 removably coupled to the dispenser 310. This similarity in height facilitates the efficient stacking of containers 300. However, in some embodiments, the height of the handle is different from the height of the cap. In addition, the handle 312 may be solid or hollow depending on the specific embodiment.

FIGS. 7-8 best show the collapsible portion 330 of the container 300. The collapsible portion 330 has an interior cavity 335 (best shown in FIG. 8) that cooperates with the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320 to define at least a portion of the hollow interior of the container 300. The collapsible portion 330 is adapted to move between an expanded condition (as shown in FIG. 8) and a collapsed condition (as shown in FIG. 7). In the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 330 is inverted into the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320. As best shown in FIG. 8, the shape of the collapsible portion 330 in an expanded condition is generally the same shape as the interior cavity 325 of the support portion 320. The collapsible portion 330 expands as the user fills the container 300 with material, such as water. A living hinge 350 connecting the collapsible portion 325 to the support portion 320 and the base portion 315 allows the collapsible portion 325 to move between the expanded condition and collapsed condition.

FIGS. 11 and 12 are perspective views of another embodiment of a semi-collapsible container 400 having a collapsed condition and an expanded condition. FIG. 11 depicts the container 400 in a collapsed condition and FIG. 12 depicts the container 400 in an expanded condition. Referring to FIGS. 11 and 12, the container 400 comprises a substantially cylindrical support portion 420 having an interior cavity 425 (best shown in FIG. 11) that defines a portion of the total volume of the container 400. The collapsible portion 430 of the container 400 also has an interior cavity (not shown) that cooperates with the interior cavity 425 of the support portion 420 to define at least a portion of the hollow interior of the container 400. The collapsible portion 430 is adapted to move between an expanded condition (as shown in FIG. 12) and a collapsed condition (as shown in FIG. 11). In the collapsed condition, the collapsible portion 430 is inverted into the interior cavity 425 of the support portion 420. A hinge 450 connecting the collapsible portion 425 to the support portion 420 and the base portion 415 allows the collapsible portion 425 to move between the expanded condition and collapsed condition.

As shown in FIGS. 11-12, the support portion 420 further comprises an upper end 405 connected to a dispenser portion 410. The dispenser 410 communicates with the hollow interior of the container 400 allowing the container 400 to be filled or emptied. The dispenser 410 comprises a threaded portion (not shown) and a closure. In the present embodiment, the closure is a substantially cylindrical cap 450 with female threads on the interior walls, similar to conventional caps found on soda or water bottles. To prevent spillage, the cap 450 is removably coupled to the threaded portion of the dispenser 410. The threaded portion of the dispenser 410 comprises a neck extending from the upper end 405 of the support portion 420 with exterior male threads. The size and shape of the neck with exterior male threads corresponds to the size and shape of the cap 450 with interior female threads. In other embodiments, however, the type of dispenser varies. For example, the dispenser may comprise a cap that snaps onto a lip located on the end of the dispenser. In still other embodiments, the dispenser comprises a removable seal to prevent tampering with the container and its contents. As shown in FIGS. 11-12, the support portion 420 further comprises a lower support base 415 capable of supporting the container 400 in either the collapsed or the expanded conditions.

FIGS. 13-31 illustrate an embodiment of a collapsible container 1300 that is similar to the collapsible container 100 illustrated by FIGS. 1-5. Since the general configuration of the collapsible container 1300 is substantially the same as the collapsible container 100, a detailed description of the features that the collapsible container 1300 has in common with the collapsible container 100 will not be repeated. Rather, only features of the container 1300 that are different from the container 100 are described in detail here.

Any one or more of the features of the container 1300 illustrated by FIGS. 13-31 may be included on any of the containers illustrated by FIGS. 1-12 and any one or more of the features of the containers illustrated by FIGS. 1-12 may be included on the container 1300 illustrated by FIGS. 13-31. Further, containers having any combination or subcombination of the features of the containers 100, 300, 400, 1300 are contemplated by this application.

In an exemplary embodiment, the collapsible container 1300 includes features that add strength to the support portion 120 of the container. These features may allow the entire container to be made, such as by blow molding, from a single material that is flexible enough to allow collapsible portion 130 to move from the collapsed condition to the expanded condition by simply filling the container with a liquid, such as water, while providing structural integrity to the support portion 120 that inhibits bending, wrinkling, buckling, etc. of the support portion 120 during use. Applicant has found that a homogeneous blend of LDPE and HDPE allows the container to be blow molded from a single material, while still allowing the collapsible portion 130 to be moved from the collapsed condition to the extended position, simply by filling the container with a liquid, such as water. The rigidity of the support portion 120 is increased by including geometric features that enhance stiffness, such as an area 1302 that may be configured to accept a label and an area 1304 of a neck 1306 of the collapsible container 1300.

An area 1302 that is configured to accept a label may take a wide variety of different forms. In an exemplary embodiment, any configuration that increases the strength of the wall 121 can be used. For example, the mold may be configured to make the wall 121 thicker, to provide the wall 121 with internal or external ribs, and/or to provide the wall with a recess or other non-uniform wall shape. In the illustrated embodiment, the area 1302 has an undulating configuration. These undulations increase the strength and/or stiffness of the wall 121.

Referring to FIGS. 15 and 19, a left side wall portion 1310 at the left side of the area 1302 extends toward the cavity of the container 1300 and toward the middle of the area 1302 as indicated by arrow 1312 in FIG. 19. Similarly, a right side wall portion 1320 at the right side of the area 1302 extends toward the cavity of the container 1300 and toward the middle of the area 1302 as indicated by arrow 1322 in FIG. 19. A central wall portion 1330 extends from the left side wall portion 1310 to the right side wall portion. The central wall portion 1330 extends away from the cavity of the container 1300 as the central wall portion extends away from the left side wall portion 1310 and as the central wall portion extends away from the right side wall portion as indicated by arrows 1332 and 1334 in FIG. 19.

Referring to FIGS. 15, 20 and 21, a top side wall portion 1340 at the top of the area 1302 extends toward the cavity of the container 1300 and toward the middle of the area 1302 in the area where section line 20-20 is drawn in FIG. 15 as indicated by arrow 1342 in FIG. 20. The top side wall portion 1340 extends substantially vertically downward toward the middle of the area 1302 in the area where section line 21-21 is drawn in FIG. 15 as indicated by arrow 1343 in FIG. 21. An upper intermediate wall portion 1350 connects the top side wall portion 1340 to the central wall portion 1330. The upper intermediate wall portion 1350 extends away from the cavity of the container 1300 as it extends from the top side wall portion 1340 to the central wall portion 1330 as indicated by arrow 1352. A bottom side wall portion 1360 at the bottom of the area 1302 extends toward the cavity of the container 1300 and toward the middle of the area 1302 as indicated by arrow 1362 in FIGS. 20 and 21. A lower intermediate wall portion 1370 connects the bottom side wall portion 1360 to the central wall portion 1330. The lower intermediate wall portion 1370 extends away from the cavity of the container 1300 as it extends from the bottom side wall portion 1360 to the central wall portion as indicated by arrow 1372. The central wall portion 1330 extends from the upper intermediate wall portion 1350 to the lower intermediate wall portion 1370. The central wall portion 1330 extends in a substantially vertical direction from the lower intermediate wall portion 1370 to the upper intermediate wall portion 1350.

In the illustrated embodiment, the central wall portion 1330 is sized and shaped to accept a product label. A variety of different types and configurations of product labels can be used. In one exemplary embodiment, the product label is applied using in-mold labeling (IML). In-mold labels are placed in a mold, then the plastic material is provided to the mold. As a result, the label is molded to the part. In one exemplary embodiment, the label is selected to add strength to the support portion 120 of the collapsible container. This can be a accomplished in a variety of different ways. For example, the thickness and/or material can be selected to add strength to the support portion 120 of the container. A label that is selected to add strength to the support portion 120 of the container 1300 can be applied using in-mold labeling or can be applied using an adhesive. When the label is applied using in-mold labeling, the label may add strength and/or rigidity to the support portion due purely to the labels strength and/or rigidity properties. Or, the label may add strength and/or rigidity due to the properties of the material that results when a portion of the label material blends with, cross-links with, reacts with, or otherwise interacts with the a portion of the container material.

An area 1304 for increasing the strength and/or rigidity of the neck area 1306 of the collapsible container 1300 may take a wide variety of different forms. In an exemplary embodiment, any configuration that increases the strength and/or rigidity of the neck area 1306 can be used. For example, the mold may be configured to make a wall 1400 in the neck area 1306 thicker, to provide the wall 1400 with internal or external ribs, and/or to provide the wall 1400 with a recess 1402 or other non-uniform wall shape. In the illustrated embodiment, the area 1304 has a recess 1402. This recess 1402 increases the strength and/or stiffness of the wall 1400.

The recess may have a wide variety of different shapes and sizes. FIGS. 18 and 22A illustrate one of the many possible configurations. The illustrated recess 1402 has a right raised wall portion 1410 at the right side of the area 1304. A recessed wall portion 1420 is disposed to the left and rearward of the right raised wall portion 1410 in FIG. 22A. A right intermediate wall 1430 connects the right raised wall portion 1410 to the recessed wall portion 1420 such that the recessed wall portion 1420 is recessed from the right raised wall portion 1410.

Referring to FIGS. 18 and 21, a top raised wall portion 1440 is disposed at the top of the area 1304 and a bottom raised wall portion 1450 is disposed at the bottom of the area 1304. The recessed wall portion 1420 is disposed between the top and bottom raised wall portions 1440, 1450 in FIG. 21. Top and bottom intermediate walls 1460, 1470 connect the top and bottom raised wall portions 1440, 1450 to the recessed wall portion 1420 such that the recessed wall portion 1420 is recessed from the top and bottom raised wall portions.

In one exemplary embodiment, one or more stabilizing structures 1500 may be included on the support portion 120 and/or the collapsible portion 130 to prevent the container 100 from tipping. The stabilizing structures can take a wide variety of different forms. Any structure that reduces the likelihood that that the container 100 will tip over can be employed.

In the example illustrated by FIGS. 14, 16, and 18, the collapsible portion 130 includes a stabilizing structure 1500. A variety of different stabilizing structures 1500 can be included in the collapsible portion. For example, the collapsible portion 130 may include any number of support structures, such as legs or feet, that extend from the collapsible portion. In the illustrated embodiment, the collapsible portion 130 is shaped to define a stabilizing structure 1500. The illustrated stabilizing portion 1500 is in the form of a bulge or foot that extends downward from the middle of the collapsible portion. Referring to FIG. 18, a bottom 1504 or surface engaging portion of the stabilizing portion aligns with the base 115 of the support portion 120. Referring to FIG. 18, on opposite sides of the stabilizing portion 1500 are lower left 1504 and lower right 1506 portions of the collapsible portion that are spaced vertically upward from the bottom surface 1504. As such, when the container 100 is placed on a flat, horizontal support surface, with the collapsible portion in the extended position, the base 115 of the support portion and the stabilizing portion 1500 engage the support surface, while the lower left 1504 and lower right 1506 portions of the collapsible portion 130 are spaced above the support surface. Referring to FIG. 16, the stabilizing portion 1500 is configured such that a portion 1510 that is further away from the support portion 120 engages the support surface while a portion 1512 that is closer to the support portion 120 is spaced apart from the support surface.

In all embodiments described above it is understood that the container may come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The figures presented show some traditional types of containers; however, this does not preclude the container from taking on other sizes and shapes, such as all sizes of drums, barrels, boxes, cans, and the like.

Methods of Making Containers

The invention also provides methods for making semi-collapsible containers. Generally, there are many methods for making containers. An exemplary method is extrusion blow molding. The extrusion blow molding process involves multiple steps, including conventional extrusion of a parison or tube, using a die. The parison is commonly extruded downward between one or more sections (usually two halves) of an open blow mold that has an internal shape that forms the shape of the article to be molded. The parison is quite hot, while the internal surface of the mold is relatively cold. When the parison reaches the proper length, the mold is closed, and the parison is caught and held in place at either end. A rod-like blow pin is inserted into the one end of the hot parison to inflate the parison inside the mold cavity, and in some cases, to form a thread or other structure at what will be the dispenser of the container. After the blown article cools, the mold is opened and the article is removed or ejected. The article is then processed to trim any excess plastic from the areas that were pinched at the neck and bottom and along the seams of the mold. The procedures for forming bottles and other containers are well known. For example, see Modern Plastics Encyclopedia, Vol. 54, No. 10A, 1977-1978, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. (e.g., section on “Blow Molding” at page 230, et seq.; also see section on “Injection Blow Molding” at page 232 et seq.).

According to the invention, modifications to the blow molding process provide for making a semi-collapsible blow molded article. The process includes the steps of forming a parison from at least one polymeric resinous material; positioning the parison in a blow mold having an inner shape that defines the shape of the article to include at least one support portion and at least one collapsible portion, and introducing air into the parison to force the parison to conform to the inner shape of the mold; and finally processing the blown article, including the steps, in any order, of removing the article from the mold and inverting a collapsible portion of the article into an interior space within a support portion of the article.

The step of collapsing the container may be achieved by introducing an additional mandrel bearing a punch or other tool that conforms to the shape of the support portion and is adapted for removable insertion to effectively collapse the container without causing damage to its structure. Alternatively, the collapsing step may be performed manually, such as with a hand, or a specially adapted tool. In some embodiments, the parison is formed from at least two different polymeric resinous materials, at least one of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one support portion, and another of which materials is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines the at least one collapsible portion. According to such embodiments, containers having portions made of different materials can be made, such as containers in which the collapsible portion and the support portions vary in their flexibility, rigidity, elasticity, or opacity or color. In some embodiments, the parison is formed from a single uniformly blended polymeric resinous materials, that is positioned in the parison in a location that corresponds with the inner shape of the mold that defines both the support portion and the collapsible portion.

Use of Containers

Containers of the instant invention are intended for use by consumers of a variety of products of an industrial, household, or other nature, which can be provided in a concentrated form (either powder, liquid, or other form) for later suspension, reconstitution or dilution. The cavity of the support portion that is available in the collapsed condition of the containers provides sufficient space to contain active ingredients or a concentrated liquid solution. Accordingly, after manufacture of a container, it is ready for placement of an appropriate amount of active ingredient or concentrated solution into the container. Thereafter, the container is sealed. An advantage of the container design according to the invention is that the addition of product to the collapsed container results in some degree of distortion of the container and an attendant increase in the internal volume. Thus, if a seal is applied to the container immediately upon addition of the product, a vacuum will form due to the increase in internal volume caused by the force of the added product. In some instances, manufacturers and packagers may be spared the requirement of evacuation if the product contents are otherwise stable.

After the product in the container is purchased, the user adds water or another appropriate solvent to the container to arrive at the correct concentration of product. As the liquid is added, the collapsible portion expands and moves out of the interior of the support portion and assumes its shape as it is filled with the added solvent. In general, in some embodiments of the invention, the collapsible material does not necessarily rely on significant elasticity to accommodate increases in container volume. The material itself does not substantially stretch or shrink when liquid is added or removed, only the shape of the collapsible material changes to increase or decrease the volume capacity of the container. When the container is in either the expanded or the collapsed condition, the bottom of the support portion supports and maintains the container in an upright position when set onto a level surface.

The flexibility of the internal volume and outside dimensions of the container allow for efficiency gains in the packing and shipping of containers by conserving overall space and volume when containers are situated next to one another. Containers can be designed in a manner where the shape of the support portion fits into the shape of the non-expanded pliable portion. Generally, the shape of the support portion is compatible with the shape of the collapsible portion. This allows the support portion of a container to be seated adjacent to the collapsible portion of a container situated next to it; however, the shelf space needed to accommodate the containers is smaller. When viewed from the front by a shopper, the containers on a shelf appear very similar to traditional containers, and include labels, markings and other product-related indicia typically associated with more traditionally packaged products.

Manufacturers, retailers and customers alike further benefit from the space saving design of the container, since the void provided in the outwardly facing concavities of the body of the container provides a space that can be used for enclosing tools for use with the container, such as pumps, measuring cups or spoons, dispensing containers, additional caps and the like. The space can also be used for enclosing instructions. And the space can be used for enclosing promotional items, such as coupons, juice glasses, children's toys, and other items that appeal to consumers.