Patent application title: Fence-mounted portable rack for refreshments, equipment, or accessories
Mark Roskuszka (Aurora, IL, US)
IPC8 Class: AA47B8100FI
Class name: Special article receptacle support cylindrical shape
Publication date: 2012-09-20
Patent application number: 20120234782
Athletic fields, fairgrounds, parks, construction sites, and other
informal outdoor venues often lack ample sheltered, level horizontal
surfaces where patrons or workers may securely rest drinking vessels
while they eat, exercise, shop, or work. However, vertical barriers such
as fences, rails and boundary walls are often present. Variations on a
durable, lightweight, versatile, portable open-work rack can be
temporarily hung on such vertical barriers, used to hold any of a diverse
range of drinking vessels, and removed without leaving a mark on the
barrier. Both single- and multiple-vessel racks are stackable for compact
storage. Besides drinking vessels, the racks can also support food
containers such as fruit or yogurt cups, and other outdoor items such as
small potted plants.
1. A rack, comprising: a hook, a back column connected to the hook, a
bottom rail connected to the back column, a front column connected to the
bottom rail, and a front bow connected to the front column, where the
hook is configured to secure the rack to a rim or opening of a vertical
structure, and the back column, bottom rail, front column, and front bow
are configured to temporarily hold an object.
2. The rack of claim 1, further comprising empty spaces, large enough to admit multiple fingers of a hand, between the back column and the front column and between the back column and the front bow.
3. The rack of claim 1, further comprising an empty space, open at the top, between the front column and the back column, wide enough to admit the handle of a cup or mug.
4. The rack of claim 1, where the bottom rail is convex and sufficiently slender to discourage water and liquids of similar viscosity from pooling thereon.
5. The rack of claim 1, where outer surfaces of the back column, bottom rail, front column, and front bow are nonporous and nonreactive to common cleaning solutions.
6. The rack of claim 1, further comprising a second hook.
7. The rack of claim 6, where the hook and the second hook may be pulled away from each other to provide a temporarily wider spacing, and will return to their original positions when tension is released.
8. The rack of claim 1, where the front and back columns are parallel.
9. The rack of claim 1, where the front and back columns diverge at a taper angle from bottom to top.
10. The rack of claim 9, where the taper angle is configured to enable nested stacking of an identical rack.
11. The rack of claim 10, where the hook is formed with a taper to further facilitate the nested stacking.
12. The rack of claim 1, where the bottom rail is multiply bent to stabilize objects of multiple sizes and shapes.
13. The rack of claim 1, where the hook is configured to let the object swing free under gravity if the vertical structure changes its angle relative to the ground.
14. A method of making a rack, comprising: enabling a length of linear stock to bend, bending a front bow, forming a pair of bottom rails, bending a pair of front-corner columns between the bottom rails and the front bow, bending the front bow out of a plane of the front-corner columns, bending a pair of hooks away from the bottom rails, and bending a pair of back-corner columns between the bottom rails and the hooks.
15. The method of claim 14, further comprising hardening the linear stock after bending.
16. The method of claim 14, where the linear stock comprises at least one of rod stock, tube stock, or helical stock.
17. The method of claim 14, further comprising treating a surface of the linear stock to make the surface at least one of: non-porous, chemically inert, cushioned, dent-resistant, abrasion-resistant, weather-resistant, and decoratively colored or patterned.
18. The method of claim 14, further comprising repeating the bending steps to form multiple sets of front bows, bottom rails, front-corner columns, back-corner columns, and hooks from a continuous length of the linear stock.
19. The method of claim 18, where the multiple sets are left attached to each other to form a multiple-object rack.
20. A means for suspending an object, comprising: means for coupling the suspending means to a rim of, or an opening in, a vertical face or a structure, means for supporting the object from below, and means for stabilizing the object on three sides, where the coupling means is flexible in at least one direction to accommodate variations in thickness and form-factor of the structure, and the stabilizing means is flexible in at least one direction to accommodate variations in shape and size of the object.
 This application claims a priority benefit from U.S. Provisional App. No. 61/453,495.
FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
 Related fields include dismountable racks, bottle racks, and wall-mounted supports for bottles and jars.
 Many outdoor venues for sports, music, shopping, leisure, and work have few or no tables, shelves, or other stable, level flat surfaces. Bleachers or benches are sometimes available, but these may be completely occupied, constantly climbed over, or too uneven to stably support bowls or drink cups. Still, athletes, landscapers, construction workers, and the like must stay hydrated for safety and optimal performance. In hot weather, the same is true of sidewalk vendors, festival-goers or -staffers, and sports coaches, referees, and spectators.
 When patrons of these venues have refreshments, they typically need to "park" the refreshment containers temporarily, often multiple times, while they attend to other things. Finding a secure place to rest drinks can be challenging. Spilled drinks waste the consumer's money. They inconvenience or even endanger passersby when they make walking surfaces slippery or sticky, or attract insects such as wasps and flies. They may spoil adjacent exhibits and vendors' wares. They place an extra clean-up burden on the owners of the location and of temporary structures taken away from the location. Yet putting up more tables and shelves to keep clear just in case someone needs to park a drink seems an inefficient use of space and material.
 Therefore, a need exists for a way to park refreshment containers in outdoor venues that will significantly reduce the chance of spillage, and will be easy to clean and sufficiently impervious to ambient temperature, moisture, solar ultraviolet rays, mold, and mechanical stresses such as shock, abrasion, tension, and compression. Because many of these outdoor venues are subject to rearrangement, the drink-parking apparatus is preferably portable and easily stored, or at least reconfigurable. Because many of these venues are owned by cities, schools, churches or charitable organizations, the costs of producing and owning the drink-parking apparatus are preferably low.
 Chain-link fences, other open-work structures such as picket or lattice fences, and low walls are often found in these outdoor locations. They are seldom used as anything except barriers; they confine flying balls and exclude loose animals or trespassers. Racks that hang from such structures are an appealing solution.
 Although the basic concept of a portable rack to hang on a chain-link or similar fence has been explored in multiple variations, there is room for further improvement in user-friendliness, portability, durability, low maintenance, and versatility. For example, many hydrating drinks now come in boxes or pouches rather than bottles, cans, or glasses. Even the classic cylindrical-footprint vessels now come in a greater variety of heights and diameters than their antecedents.
 A streamlined openwork rack can be removably attached to a vertical barrier such as a fence, rail, or wall by passing a pair of integral hooks through gaps in the barrier or over the top of the barrier, and allowing gravity to settle the rack in place. The rack holds a drinking vessel (or an item of similar size and shape, such as a small food carton or plant-pot) securely yet accessibly.
 The rack's bottom rail arrangement supports the base of the vessel. Front-corner columns, back-corner columns, and a front "bowed" section prevent the vessel from spilling. The vessels may be tapered or untapered, with a fairly wide range of diameters and shapes; some rack embodiments also accept vessels with side handles, such as mugs. Many embodiments are strong enough to hold insulated vacuum bottles, such as Thermos®.
 After use, the rack is easily detached from the vertical barrier and leaves no marks. Both single-vessel and multi-vessel racks are stackable for compact storage and transport. The racks are preferably made of a fairly stiff but somewhat springy material to extend the compatible range of vessel diameters and barrier thicknesses. Various rack embodiments may be made by 3-D fabrication or CNC wireforming, or by older methods such as conventional bending and welding.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIG. 1A is a perspective view, FIG. 1B is a top view, FIG. 1C is a side view, and FIG. 1D is a front view, of a rack for a single drinking vessel.
 FIGS. 2A-2E show simple bending steps to form an example of the single-vessel rack.
 FIG. 3 illustrates stacking of multiple racks.
 FIGS. 4A-4C illustrate multi-vessel racks.
 FIG. 5 illustrates a multi-vessel rack holding various kinds of drinking vessels
 Desirable qualities in a portable holder for drinks include light weight, durability, ease of cleaning, minimal need for cleaning, and adaptability to a range of drinking vessels (for example, cans, bottles, sports bottles, tumblers, or mugs). Preferably, the holder's appearance is pleasing and multiple holders can be stored in a reasonably small space.
 FIG. 1A is a perspective view, FIG. 1B is a top view, FIG. 1C is a side view, and FIG. 1D is a front view, of a rack for a single drinking vessel. Because the rack pictured here is symmetrical, the features are labeled on only one side of each view; the corresponding features on the other side of each view are readily recognizable. Examples of vessels the rack can hold and structures it can hang from are outlined in thin dashed lines. Alternate positions that parts of the rack may flex or stretch into during use are outlined in thicker dotted lines. Hooks 101 pass through gaps in the lattice or mesh of a fence 121, or over the top of a fence (or thin wall) 122, and gravity settles them into place. Back-corner columns 102 hang down along the user's side of fence 121 or 122. Bottom rails 103 support the vessel from below. Front bow 105 stabilizes the vessel from the front. Front-corner columns 104 work with back-corner columns 102 to stabilize the vessel from the sides.
 This open-work design is very easy to clean. Holders with solid walls and bottoms catch and retain spills leaks, and dribbles from the drinks inside. There the liquid pools and dries (to a sticky residue that traps dust and attracts insects, in the case of sweet or milky beverages). In a car or near a vulnerable floor-covering such as high-end carpeting or unvarnished wood, this is preferable to letting the liquid escape, but outdoors or in other informal settings a few drops on the ground has less negative impact. A leak or spill in rack 100 will mostly pass right through the gaps to the ground, and any liquid that does land on rack 100 is easily wiped off. When stored, the open-work rack is also a less friendly environment for molds, insects, and rodents than a tunnel shape enclosed on all but one side.
 The sizes of the gaps between each of the corner columns 102 or 104 and its neighboring corner columns determine the maximum sliding-fit round-vessel diameter 130. Diameter 130 can be matched to a standard size of can, bottle, glass, or vacuum bottle (e.g. Thermos®). The spacing, angles, and any extra bends or spanning members of bottom rails 103 determine a minimum round-vessel diameter 140 that will not fall through rack 100. Diameter 140 may be sized for popular slender vessels such as juice boxes or energy-drink cans. The difference between diameters 130 and 140 can alternatively be sized for a vessel that is narrower at the bottom than the top; a disposable or reusable tumbler, or even a small flowerpot that can be hung decoratively from a garden fence, arbor, or balcony rail. The open space between each back-corner column 102 and the adjacent front-corner column 104 may be made wide enough to accommodate a handle 161 on a cup or mug 160--something that the unrelieved top rings or cylindrical bodies of many prior drink holders do not allow.
 Hooks 101 provide two coupling points to the fence 121 or wall 122, and allow rack 100 to be mounted or dismounted very quickly with a simple motion of one hand. The absence of any more couplings or tensioning members, as most prior racks have, do allow rack 100 to pivot freely with some limited amplitude in most directions if fence 121 or 122 is flexed. Many of the common mesh or chain-link fence types do flex or shudder if a person or weighty object leans on the fence, under gusty winds, or if hit by a ball or bat. A tightly coupled rack would flex or shudder along with the fence, taking the vessel with it but not the liquid inside the vessel; thus the liquid would tend to slosh out unless the vessel is capped. When fences 121 or 122 flex in most directions, the pivot allowance in the design of rack 100 lets gravity keep the vessel hanging straight down, rather than tilting with the fence. The pivot allowance also damps the effect of fence shuddering at most (non-resonant) frequencies. Thus, where one might expect more spills from vessels suspended from a pair of somewhat loose hooks 101 than from tighter attachments at more points, the opposite is typically true.
 Preferred materials for rack 100 are somewhat springy as well as strong. This allows hooks 102 to stretch over thicker walls 122, exert compression to clamp on, and return to their original shape when dismounted. Springiness also allows front-corner columns 104 to tilt out and front bow 105 to open up into stretched position 115 and accommodate larger vessel diameter 150. The restoring spring force compensates for the front-heavy distribution of weight, and rack 100 returns to its former shape after the larger vessel is removed. Mild steel wire or bar-stock (for instance, 0.4-0.7 cm dia.), some types of work-hardened metal tubing, or glass-filled polymers (nylon, Delrin®, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polycarbonate) similar to those used in fishing rods, are non-limiting examples of such materials.
 Rack 100 is preferably formed as a single piece for low cost, durability and streamlined appearance. Bending, threading, and multi-slide processes can be used for metal. For glass-filled polymers, the fill fibers can be shaped on mandrels or routed through channels before curing the polymer, so it cures into the desired shape, or rod stock may be locally heated for bending. The finished rack may be covered to protect both its core material and objects that come in contact with the rack. Painting, plating, powder coating, and plastisol or vinyl covering may be used, or a heat-shrinking or cushioned flexible tubing. Ease of cleaning is often a priority.
 FIGS. 2A-2E show simple bending steps to form an alternative embodiment of the single-vessel rack. Although CNC wire-forming is faster, more versatile, and has become economical for large quantities, the set-up charge for small numbers of custom racks may be daunting. Any known method of forming this type of material into this type of shape may be used' the bends can be imposed in any suitable order, or simultaneously. Front bow 205 (here shown as a V-shape with small-radius point 215, an alternative to a section of a circle, ellipse, or parabola) is formed first (FIG. 2A). Allowing a suitable length for front-corner columns 204, bottom rails 203 are formed next (FIG. 2B; here, the bottom rail has alternative extra bends for versatility; this structure more stably holds non-rigid drink pouches). Front-corner columns 204 are then bent up out of the plane of bottom rails 203, and front bow 205 is bent forward and down out of the plane of front-corner columns 204 (FIG. 2C). Hooks 201 are formed on the ends of back-corner columns 202. (FIG. 2D). Finally, back-corner columns 202 are bent up out of the plane 202 to form the finished shape (FIG. 2E).
 Groups that regularly do outdoor activities together, such as teams, families, classes and clubs, may prefer to transport and store multiple vessel-racks together, as may gardeners bringing numerous small potted plants to sales and shows. Multiple single-vessel racks may be stacked together, as in FIG. 3. Note that embodiments with no taper angle α to facilitate axial nesting (as seen in, for example, stacked paper cups) are nonetheless stackable if each rack added to the stack is offset slightly from the axis of its neighbor. A fairly straight, compact stack can be assembled by alternating the offset direction back and forth. For instance, here rack 300B is stacked on top of 300A, slightly off-center to the left; then rack 300C is stacked on 300B slightly off-center to the right.
 Stackability that does not require a tapered silhouette is an advantage: Compared to a tapered holder with the same topmost diameter, an untapered holder can admit larger untapered vessels without their "bottoming-out" short of the actual bottom of the holder. "Bottoming-out" shifts the center of gravity upward, making the vessel more top-heavy for a potentially less-stable hold. In the illustrated rack 300C, a vessel of bottom diameter D seats on the rack's bottom rails. By contrast, if the rack had a taper angle α, the same vessel would seat, less stably, at height H off the bottom rails.
 If the racks have a non-slip coating, such as a vinyl dip, stacked racks will tend to cling together until pulled apart. Nor is it difficult to intentionally pull the stacked racks apart for use; the openwork structure substantially minimizes the contact area between the non-slip surfaces, so there is "only just enough" static friction created to keep the racks from sliding apart by themselves.
 Another approach to holding multiple vessels on a fence or wall is to make compound, multi-vessel racks by joining together two or more of the single-vessel racks side-by-side. Since all the hooks in the compound rack engage and disengage simultaneously, set-up and tear-down of the racks for a sizable event is faster.
 FIGS. 4A-4C illustrate a few non-limiting examples of compound multi-vessel racks. Although the examples shown are 3-vessel racks, these techniques will work for any suitable number. In FIG. 4A, neighboring front-corner columns 404 may simply be bonded to each other by seams 414. Depending on the rack materials, the bond may be achieved by welding, fusing, ultrasonic vibratory bonding, high-performance adhesive, or any other suitable method. In FIG. 4B, separate clips, clamps, sleeves or bindings 424 may secure neighboring front-corner columns. FIG. 4B also shows protective tip-covers 411 over hooks 401. These prevent the ends of hooks 401 from scratching nearby surfaces while being transported. Alternatively, if the core material is not much harder than its neighbors, or if the hook-tips are given rounded ends, or if the coating sufficiently cushions the hook-tips, or if some other obviating factor is present, tip-covers may not be needed.
 FIG. 4C illustrates an example multi-vessel rack formed from a single continuous length of wire or other material Its manufacture may be more complex than the other examples, but is feasible through CNC wire-forming and other techniques. This embodiment can be made very rugged because there are no vulnerable attachment points between the component single-vessel racks. Here the doubling-over 421 at the tips of hooks 401 obviates the risk of scratching nearby objects. The two free ends 406 are preferably secured alongside another section of the rack. In the illustration, free ends 406 are secured to the outermost front-corner columns 404. However, other alternatives, such as terminating ends 406 at a shorter length and securing them to bottom rails 403, are also feasible. Also, although the two cores of bottom rails 403 follow each other closely in this illustration, they may alternatively diverge and re-converge to reduce the gaps in the bottom of the rack that slender or amorphous objects might otherwise slip through.
 FIG. 5 shows an example of a "4-pack" rack in use, from the user's point of view. Hooks 501 go through gaps in fence 521. Bottle 540, can 530, mug 560, and juice-box 570 all rest on bottom rails 503. Handle 561 of mug 560 is accommodated by placement at an end of the multi-vessel rack.
 The preceding written description and the accompanying drawings are intended solely as representative examples. Only the appended claims and their equivalents define the scope of the protected invention variations.
Patent applications in class Cylindrical shape
Patent applications in all subclasses Cylindrical shape