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United States Patent Application 20160310860
Kind Code A1
Lindstrom; Joesf Mikeal ;   et al. October 27, 2016

Inflatable Play Structure

Abstract

An inflatable play structure that uses a household fan for inflation and to maintain rigidity is disclosed. Users may enter the inflatable play structure through an entrance flap and reside within the interior of the play structure. The inflatable play structure is attached to the household fan by magnets, hooks, or Velcro. A weighted hemline prevents excessive amounts of forced air from exiting the play structure and keeps the structure non-permanently anchored to the ground. The play structure may be used indoors or outdoors, and may be erected around household furniture to enhance user experience. When not in use, the inflatable play structure can be stored or transported in a convenient, easy-to-use storage bag.


Inventors: Lindstrom; Joesf Mikeal; (Albany, OR) ; Lindstrom; Sarah; (Albany, OR)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

Lindstrom; Joesf Mikeal
Lindstrom; Sarah

Albany
Albany

OR
OR

US
US
Family ID: 1000002030890
Appl. No.: 13/875153
Filed: May 1, 2013


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: A63G 31/12 20130101; A63H 33/008 20130101
International Class: A63H 33/00 20060101 A63H033/00; A63G 31/12 20060101 A63G031/12

Claims



1. An inflatable play structure that is inflated using a household fan comprising: a first section constructed of one or more flexible materials, the first section defining an interior play area when the inflatable play structure is inflated, the first section attaching to the household fan and capturing air from the household fan when the fan is switched on, the first section having a means for attaching to the household fan; an entrance flap connected to the first section that permits users to enter or exit the interior play area when the inflatable play structure is inflated, the entrance flap being constructed of a flexible sheet material; a weighted hemline that non-permanently anchors the inflatable play structure when the inflatable play structure is inflated, the weighted hemline being attached to the bottom of the first section and the entrance flap; and the inflatable play structure being capable of folding for storage or transport when not in use.

2. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, wherein the flexible material is a grade of conventional cotton, a cotton blend, a non-cotton woven material, vinyl, or plastic.

3. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, wherein the interior play area is of sufficient size to accommodate at least one user.

4. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, wherein the interior play area is of sufficient size to accommodate one or more pieces of household furniture.

5. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, wherein the means for attaching to the household fan is magnets, hooks, or Velcro.

6. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, wherein the weighted hemline has at least one compartment filled with a ballast material.

7. The inflatable play structure of claim 1, further comprising a device for supporting the household fan when it is attached to the first section.

8. An apparatus comprising: a structure that is inflated using a household fan as its inflation blower; the structure forming an interior recreation area where users may engage in recreational or play activities; an entrance flap that allows users to exit and enter the interior recreation area; the apparatus being weighted to the ground by a hemline that is attached to the bottom of the structure and the entrance flap; the structure, entrance flap, and hemline being constructed of a flexible material that is easily foldable yet does not allow excessive amounts of air to pass through; and attachment areas that attach the structure to the household fan.

9. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein the apparatus may be used indoors or outdoors.

10. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein a portion of the flexible material is a transparent, semi-transparent, or colored vinyl or plastic.

11. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein the hemline is filled with ballast.

12. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein the attachment areas are sewn into the structure and are magnets, hooks, or Velcro.

13. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the magnets are rare earth magnets.

14. An inflatable play structure comprising: a plurality of sections that are attached together to form a structure that defines an interior play area when the structure is inflated, the structure being inflated by a household fan to which the structure is attached, each section being constructed from a sheet of flexible material that folds easily for storage or transport, a flap built into one of the sections that allows a user to enter or exit interior play area, a means for securing ballast to the plurality of sections and the entrance flap that non-permanently anchor the inflatable play structure to the ground when the inflatable play structure is inflated, and the interior play area being of sufficient dimensions to accommodate at least one user.

15. The inflatable play structure of claim 14, wherein the plurality of sections are attached together by sewing, bonding, or gluing.

16. The inflatable play structure of claim 14, wherein the structure is attached to the household fan by magnets, hooks, or Velcro.

17. The inflatable play structure of claim 14, wherein the sheets of flexible material are a grade of conventional cotton, a cotton blend, a non-cotton woven material, vinyl, or plastic.

18. The inflatable play structure of claim 17, wherein the sheets of flexible material are characterized by differing patterns, decorations, or material types.

19. The inflatable play structure of claim 14, wherein the ballast is secured to the plurality of sections and the entrance flap by a weighted hemline that contains the ballast.

20. The inflatable play structure of claim 14, wherein the interior play area is also of sufficient size to accommodate a piece of household furniture.
Description



FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to inflatable play structures, and more specifically, to a portable structure that is inflated by a fan and is used as a play fort.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Inflatable structures are well known within the art. These structures are partially or wholly supported by positive air pressure within the structure. A plurality of devices can force outside air into an inlet leading to a pressure chamber(s) such as the inside of a hot air balloon or the supporting members of a bounce structure. Once the air pressure within the chamber(s) surpasses contracting forces from a combination of structural materials, gravity, and outside atmospheric pressure, the chamber will inflate and provide rigidity to the overall structure.

[0003] Within the related art, the most common type of structure sees multiple positive air chambers providing the required rigidity. This allows for multiple shapes such as, but not limited to, castles, domes, and assorted tents. These structures provide the highest level of rigidity within the art, but unfortunately are made of heavy, thick materials. Because of these materials, the inflation device must provide a relatively large amount of pressure to inflate the structure, often making the inflation device proprietary to the specific structure, raising costs. The dense and heavy material of these structures also makes the deflated unit cumbersome to transport and store.

[0004] An exposed modality of use for inflatable play structures is known within the art. The prior art presents many inflatable structures where users play on the outer-most surface of the structure. While sufficient for the intended use, some users may prefer the privacy of an enclosed structure. Non-inflatable elementary play enclosures are well known within the art, and can be simply made out of sheets held aloft by furniture or any other form of support. However, the prior art lacks an inflatable structure where users can play within the inflated structure. It could be said there lies a need for an easily-erectable inflatable structure designed for internal play.

[0005] An important aspect of inflatable structures is the modality of inflation. The most common mode of inflation sees a built-in blower fan. Although very efficient and quick to inflate, these units are heavy, relatively large, and are made to only fit to manufacturer-specific structures. Mass-produced inflation units can be had, but are often expensive, unreliable in fitment, and uncommon.

[0006] It could be said there lies a need for an inexpensive and compactly-portable inflatable structure which does not use a proprietary inflation unit. The present invention meets these needs by providing the user with a light, compact, inflatable structure that can be inflated by a commonly procured household box fan.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide an inflatable structure that can be used as a play structure.

[0008] It is another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that uses a common household fan as its inflation blower.

[0009] It is still another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that is lightweight, foldable, and can be easily transported.

[0010] It is yet another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure constructed from customizable fabrics or fabric patterns.

[0011] It is still another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that is constructed entirely from clear vinyl or clear plastic.

[0012] It is yet another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that is constructed entirely from colored or non-transparent vinyl or plastic.

[0013] It is still another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that may use clear vinyl or other similar materials as windows for viewing out of or into the play structure.

[0014] It is yet another object of the present invention to provide an inflatable play structure that can be used indoors or outdoors.

[0015] It is still another object of the present invention to provide a cost-effective inflatable play structure that can easily and efficiently be manufactured and sold to customers.

[0016] In accordance with the objects of the invention described above, the present invention provides an inflatable play structure that uses a common household fan for inflation. The inflatable play structure has several components that, when taken together, form the entire play structure system. One component of the play structure is its construction material. The inflatable play structure is constructed of conventional sheet materials to form a majority of the structure and transparent vinyl or plastic to form foldable windows. It is important to note that certain embodiments of the present invention may be constructed entirely of transparent materials such as a clear vinyl or plastic. Yet other embodiments of the present invention may be constructed entirely from non-woven materials such as colored or non-transparent vinyl or plastic. Yet other embodiments of the present invention may be constructed from combinations of woven materials such as cotton or cotton blends, and non-woven materials such as vinyl and plastic.

[0017] Another component of the present invention is a weighted hemline that attaches to the bottom of the play structure and prevents excessive amounts of air from escaping the structure. The weighted hemline may be made from the same construction material as the play structure, or may be made from a different material. The weighted hemline may be filled with a ballast such as sand, rice, or any other material that adds weight to and non-permanently anchors the play structure to the ground. Yet another component is attachment means for connecting the play structure to the household fan. The attachment means can be magnets such as permanent magnets made of ferromagnetic materials. These magnets may include rare earth magnets such as neodymium iron boron magnets, samarium cobalt magnets, alnico magnets, and ceramic or ferrite magnets. The magnets can be sewn into the inflatable play structure at requisite attachment points so that the structure detachably attaches to the metallic case of the household fan. The inflatable play structure may also have a flap section where one corner of the flap easily detaches from the household fan to permit entry into the structure. When not entering or exiting the play structure, the flap attaches to the household fan so that air does not escape the structure. The play structure may also include a means for preventing the household fan from tipping forward when attached to the play structure. The means for preventing the fan from tipping forward could be a portion of weighted play structure material similar to the weighted hemline that is placed under the leading edge of the fan. The inflatable play structure can be deflated, folded, and placed into a convenient travel container. The travel container may be a bag that is constructed of the same or different material as the play structure.

[0018] One exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides an inflatable play structure for use inside of a residence. This embodiment of the present invention can be inflated in a living room or any area with sufficient space to accommodate the play structure. The inflatable play structure attaches to a household box fan by way of magnetic attachments and has an entrance flap for entering or exiting the interior of the structure. The entrance flap also attaches to the box fan by way of magnetic attachments in order to keep the structure inflated when someone is not actively entering or exiting the structure. The household box fan is used to inflate the structure and maintain rigidity once inflated. Sufficiently large embodiments of the present invention may encapsulate furniture such as sofas, chairs, mattresses, or love seats allowing for the furniture's use within the play structure.

[0019] Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides an inflatable play structure for use outdoors. This embodiment may be inflated wherever the ground is level enough to allow the weighted hem of the structure to create an adequate structure-to-ground seal for positive pressure to build within the structure. A household or outdoor fan may be used to inflate the structure and maintain rigidity once inflated.

[0020] The preceding brief description is intended to merely outline some objects and advantages of the present invention. The following disclosure will set forth other objects and advantages of the present invention along with novel features that distinguish the present invention from the prior art. It is to be understood that the following disclosure is by no means intended to limit the scope of the present invention or any of its embodiments. It is also to be understood that the accompanying illustrations are presented for descriptive purposes only and similarly are not intended to limit the scope of present invention or any of its embodiments. The following disclosure and accompanying illustrations may describe various features of novelty that characterize the invention. The invention does not reside any particular feature when taken in the singular, but in the combination of features as described herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE IMAGE(S)

[0021] FIG. 1 is a view of a dual-fan inflatable play structure inflated within a room of home as according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0022] FIG. 2 is a view of an inflatable play structure prior to inflation as according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0023] FIG. 3 is a view of a single-fan inflatable play structure as according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0024] FIG. 4 is a view of an entrance flap of an inflatable play structure in a closed configuration as according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0025] FIG. 5 is a view of an entrance flap of an inflatable play structure in an open configuration as according to one embodiment of the present invention;

[0026] FIG. 6 is a view of a household fan support attachment as according to one embodiment of the present invention; and

[0027] FIG. 7 is a view of an inflatable play structure in a storage and transportation container as according to one embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0028] In the following detailed description, reference is made to the accompanying images that show, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention. It is to be understood that the various embodiments of the invention, although different, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Furthermore, a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described herein in connection with one embodiment may be implemented within other embodiments without departing from the scope of the invention. In addition, it is to be understood that the location or arrangement of individual elements within each disclosed embodiment may be modified without departing from the scope of the invention. The following detailed description is, therefore, not to be taken in a limiting sense, and the scope of the present invention is defined only by appended claims, appropriately interpreted, along with the full range of equivalents to which the claims are entitled.

[0029] The word "exemplary" is used herein to mean "serving as an example, instance, or illustration." Any embodiment described herein as "exemplary" is not necessarily to be construed as preferred or advantageous over other embodiments. Likewise, the terms "embodiment(s) of the invention", "alternative embodiment(s)", and "exemplary embodiment(s)" do not require that all embodiments of the method, system, and apparatus include the discussed feature, advantage or mode of operation. The following description of the preferred embodiment is merely exemplary in nature and is in no way intended to limit the invention, its application, or use.

[0030] For the purpose of clarity, all like elements will have the same designations in each of the images. The terms "inflatable play structure", "play structure", "present invention", and "invention" may be used interchangeably. The term "flexible material" may be used to refer to woven materials such as cotton and cotton blends, non-woven transparent materials such as clear vinyl or clear plastic, or non-woven non-transparent materials such as colored or opaque vinyl or plastic. In addition to the functions, features, components, and abilities of the apparatus already discussed in this specification, the inflatable play structure may also have, but not be limited to, the following features contained within the description set forth herein.

[0031] Several preferred embodiments of the inflatable play structure are discussed in this section. However, the invention is not limited to these embodiments. An inflatable play structure, as according to the present invention, is any inflatable structure that uses forced air for inflation and to maintain rigidity into which a user may enter for recreational or play purposes. The inflatable play structure can use a household fan to provide the necessary forced air. Various features of the present invention allow for attachment of the play structure to a household fan, efficient storage and transportation, and for providing stability when the structure is inflated.

[0032] Referring now to FIG. 1, there is shown a view of a dual-fan inflatable play structure inflated within a room of home (100) as according to one embodiment of the present invention. This embodiment uses two household fans (101) to provide forced air into interior of the play structure. The forced air provided by the household fans (101) allows the play structure to maintain structural rigidity and to retain its shape while in use. The structural rigidity of the play structure can vary depending on the fan settings. A faster fan setting will force more air into the interior of the play structure resulting in increased rigidity of the play structure.

[0033] The inflatable play structure can use a single sheet of flexible material, such as cotton or other types of woven fabric, or multiple sheets of flexible material in its construction. Some embodiments of the present invention may be constructed entirely out of a clear material such as vinyl or plastic in order to provide a transparent play structure. Still other embodiments may be constructed entirely out of non-woven, non-transparent materials such as plastic or vinyl. In this embodiment, a first sheet of flexible material (102) is attached to a second sheet of flexible material (103) by way of sewing. The method of attaching the sheets flexible material (102, 103) must be sufficient so that unacceptable amounts of forced air do not escape from the attachment areas. Too much air escaping from the attachment areas will cause the inflatable play structure to lose rigidity and collapse. Furthermore, too much air escaping from the attachment areas will result in higher energy costs if users compensate for the loss of forced air by increasing the fan (101) setting.

[0034] It is important to note that for embodiments of the present invention using multiple sheets of flexible material (102, 103), the sheets of flexible material do not need to be homogeneous. In some applications it may be desirable to construct the inflatable play structure using different patterns or material types. Some embodiments of the present invention may be constructed out of mixes of woven materials such as cotton and non-woven materials such as plastic. The aesthetic value of the inflatable play structure may be increased by the thoughtful use of differing patterns or material types. By way of example, a rectangular-shaped inflatable play structure constructed with side walls of a dark blue material and a roof with a star pattern may appeal to users wishing to simulate a night sky. In addition, some users may prefer to have different patterns of flowers or seashells printed onto their inflatable play structure. Using non-homogenous sheets of flexible material allows the present invention to be individually tailored or custom made for a particular user. This customization can increase the monetary value of the invention.

[0035] Referring now to FIG. 2, there is shown an inflatable play structure prior to inflation as according to one embodiment of the present invention. The inflatable play structure does not need to be positioned in an exact orientation prior to inflation and can be roughly laid out to save time and effort. No special devices or tools are required for inflation. A household fan (101) is attached to the inflatable play structure to provide the necessary forced air. This embodiment of the present invention uses different sheets of flexible material (102, 103, 104) with varying designs on two of the sheets (103, 104).

[0036] Referring now to FIG. 3, there is shown a single-fan (101) inflatable play structure as according to one embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment of the present invention, a single flexible sheet of material (102) has been cut then rejoined to form the desired play structure shape. By using the same sheet of flexible material (102) to form the inflatable structure components, the inflatable structure maintains a uniform appearance when inflated. The rejoining of the sheet of flexible material (102) can be performed by way of sewing, bonding, gluing, or any other method that satisfactorily prevents forced air from escaping the inflatable play structure.

[0037] Referring now to FIG. 4, there is shown an entrance flap (107) of an inflatable play structure in a closed configuration as according to one embodiment of the present invention. The entrance flap (107) allows users to enter and exit the interior play area of the structure when it is inflated. The entrance flap (107) can be made of the same material as the rest of the play structure (102), or of any other appropriate material. There is also shown a weighted hemline (106) attached to the bottom of the entrance flap (107) that prevents excessive amounts of forced air from escaping out underneath the entrance flap (107). The weighted hemline (106) may be made from the same flexible material as the entrance flap (107), the play structure material (102), or may be made from a different material altogether. The weighted hemline (106) may be filled with sand, rice or any other material that non-permanently anchors the entrance flap (107) to the ground. The sand or rice filling the weighted hemline (106) is considered to be a ballast material. The ballast material is not limited to sand or rice but can also consist of any material that loosely fills the hemline and provides sufficient weight to prevent air from escaping underneath the inflatable play structure when the play structure is inflated. Although not shown in this image, the weighted hemline (106) can be attached to any other portion of the inflatable play structure so that forced air does not escape out from underneath the structure when inflated.

[0038] One or more attachment points (105) are used to attach the entrance flap (107) and other components of the play structure such as the material comprising the body of the play structure (102) to the household fan (101). The attachment point (105) can be a magnet, such as a rare earth magnet including neodymium iron boron magnets, samarium cobalt magnets, alnico magnets, and ceramic or ferrite magnets. The magnets can be attached to the entrance flap (107) by way of sewing, heat bonding, or any other method that suitably attaches the magnet to the entrance flap (107). The attachment points (105) can also be hooks or Velcro depending on the particular application. Some household fans (101) may not have a metallic case thereby requiring non-magnetic means for attachment to the fan (101).

[0039] Referring now to FIG. 5 there is shown an entrance flap (107) of an inflatable play structure in an open configuration as according to one embodiment of the present invention. When open, the entrance flap (107) can be folded up and out of the way of users entering or exiting the interior of the play structure. The entrance flap (107) is shaped and sized so that while open, enough forced air remains inside the play structure to maintain its structural rigidity. Opening the entrance flap (107) will not cause the structure to lose rigidity and collapse.

[0040] Referring now to FIG. 6 there is shown a household fan support device (111) as according to one embodiment of the present invention. The household fan support device (111) provides frontal stability to a household fan (101) then the fan (101) is attached to an inflatable play structure. When attached to an inflatable play structure, the play structure may exert a pulling force on the household fan (101) causing the fan (101) to fall forward. The support device (111) is attached to the underside leading edge of the household fan (101) to counter the pulling force and prevent the fan (101) from falling forward.

[0041] The household fan support device (111) has at least one or more areas with attachment points (109) for attaching the support device (111) to the fan. As with the other attachment points used to attach the body of the inflatable play structure or the entrance flap (FIGS. 4, 5: 107) to the household fan (101), the support device's attachment points (109) may use magnets, hooks, or Velcro depending on what is required to adequately attach the support device (111) to the household fan (101). The household fan support device (111) may have a compartment (110) containing ballast that supports the household fan (101) and prevents the fan (101) from falling forward. The ballast may be sand, rice, or any other suitable material. The ballast may also be the same material as is used in the weighted hemline (FIGS. 4-5: 107). The household fan support device (111) may be used in conjunction with a household fan's pre-existing support mechanisms (108). Typically, these pre-existing support mechanisms (108) prevent the fan (101) from falling backward due to the thrust generated when the fan (101) is switched on. The household fan support device (111) is designed not to require the removal of the pre-existing support mechanisms (108).

[0042] Referring now to FIG. 7, there is shown an inflatable play structure in a storage and transportation container (113) as according to one embodiment of the present invention. The storage and transportation container (113) allows the inflatable play structure to be stored or transported in an efficient, easy manner. When storing or transporting the inflatable play structure in the storage and transportation container (113), the inflatable play structure does not need to be folded or inserted in any specific manner. The storage and transportation container (113) has an opening at one end that can be closed using cinch cords (112). This allows the storage and transportation container (113) to be closed despite irregular folding or packing of the inflatable play structure into the storage and transportation container (113). For aesthetic purposes, the storage and transportation container (113) may be constructed of the same flexible material as the inflatable play structure.

[0043] As set forth in this description and the attached images, an improved inflatable play structure has been developed that improves upon conventional play structures. The various embodiments of the improved inflatable play structure described herein can be used in a wide variety of applications.

[0044] The preceding exemplary embodiments are not intended to be limiting, but are merely illustrative for the possible uses of the inflatable play structure.

[0045] Although certain example methods, apparatus and articles of manufacture have been described herein, the scope of coverage of this patent is not limited thereto. On the contrary, this patent covers all methods, apparatus and articles of manufacture fairly falling within the scope of the invention either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.

[0046] With respect to the above description then, it is to be realized that the optimum dimensional relationships for the parts of the inflatable play structure, to include variations in size, materials, shape, form, function and the manner of operation, and use, are deemed readily apparent and obvious to one skilled in the art, and all equivalent relationships to those illustrated in the images and described in the specification are intended to be encompassed by the inflatable play structure.

[0047] Directional terms such as "front", "back", "in", "out", "downward", "upper", "lower", "top", "bottom", and the like have been used in the description. These terms are applicable to the embodiments shown and described in conjunction with the images. These terms are merely used for the purpose of description in connection with the images and do not necessarily apply to the position in which the inflatable play structure may be used.

[0048] Therefore, the foregoing is considered as illustrative only of the principles of the inflatable play structure. Further, since numerous modifications and changes will readily occur to those skilled in the art, it is not desired to limit the inflatable play structure to the exact construction and operation shown and described, and accordingly, all suitable modifications and equivalents may be resorted to, falling within the scope of the inflatable play structure. While the above description describes various embodiments of the present invention, it will be clear that the present invention may be otherwise easily adapted to fit any configuration where an inflatable play structure is desired or required.

[0049] As various changes could be made in the above constructions without departing from the scope of the invention, it is intended that all matter contained in the above description or shown in the accompanying images shall be interpreted as illustrative and not in a limiting sense.

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