US 20020111109 A1
An inflatable, decorative article is provided that allows for versatility with regard to its seasonal usage. An inflatable form may be provided with alternative, easily removable appendages (such as alternative heads, alternative clothing, alternative facial features, and alternative hair) and other alternative decorative features without significant modification of the underlying inflatable structure. An underlying inflatable figure is provided with connecting systems that may be positioned or are positioned in strategic locations on the inflatable figure where the specific alternative or variable features may be attached. The user of the inflatable article may select the appropriate alternative features to attach to the inflatable article, and may add additional coverings, clothing, or add-on decorative features to have the appearance of the inflatable article correspond to the appropriate season or event. In this manner, a single inflatable article may be used to provide decorations for a variety of seasons at a minimum additional cost as compared to a single season decoration.
1. An inflatable article that may have additional features applied on its surface comprising:
an inflatable core section that will retain a fluid,
at least one connector on a surface of the inflatable core section for attachment of an appendage or decorative component, the inflatable core having a predetermined shape when inflated.
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12. An inflated article comprising an inflated core, at least one connector attached to the inflated core, and at least one appendage removably attached to the connector.
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 1. Field of the Invention
 The present invention relates to inflatable objects, particularly decorative inflatable objects such as window displays, house decorations, and bop bags. In particular, decorative inflatable articles that have a seasonal theme such as artificial Santa Clauses, snowmen, scarecrows, Pilgrims, Easter bunnies and the like can be provided from a single inflatable support with a decorative overlay.
 2. Background of the Art
 There are many different types of decorations that can be used in stores, store windows, outside homes, inside homes, and in other places for display to the public. In many parts of the world, it has become a tradition to display images in celebration of various holidays and seasons. For example, the Dragon is a symbol of the Chinese New Year, Santa Clause is a symbol of Christmas, a Pilgrim, scarecrow or turkey is a symbol of Thanksgiving, skeletons, ghosts and other creatures are symbolic of Halloween, and the rabbit is a well-recognized symbol of Easter. Additional figures such as images of famous leaders (presidents, kings, emperors, queens, and the like) are also displayed at various occasions.
 Although stores and personal residences enjoy displaying symbols of the seasons, it becomes economically difficult to purchase a distinct decoration for each season. Not only may the initial cost of the display be significant, but also the cost of storage, where the display is used only once a year, becomes significant.
 Some displays may also provide a play function, such as the well-known bop bag. The bop bag is an inflated humaniform or animal form shape with a low center of gravity and a majority of its weight located in the lowest 10-25% of the height of the form (e.g., the lowest 20%, the lowest 15% or the lowest 10% of the total height of the article). When such a bag is struck a blow, as with a fist or a slap, the bag rotates or pivots about the low center of gravity (with its contact with the ground acting as a rotating pivot point), and then the bop bag bounces back, recoils or recovers towards an upright position. In this way, the bop bag is first struck by a player, then appears to be knocked down and then returns to a vertical or upright position, even apparently returning a blow towards the player. Bop bags have been provided in may different forms, taking on the appearance of a boxer, a clown, a political figure, a dinosaur or the like. Ordinarily, the image of the animal or object on the bop bag is printed onto the surface (usually a polymeric film forming material forms the inflatable bag structure) of the bag, the ballast portion of the bag (in a lower containment area) is filled with ballasting material (e.g., sand water, dirt, metal plate, or dense material), the bag is inflated, the gas admission holes and ballast admission holes are closed, and the bop bag is ready for use. Because of the stress that is placed on bop bags and their generally short life span, their constructions are generally simplified to the greatest extent possible. Usually a bop bag will comprise a single ovoid polymeric casing with a single pouch for receiving the ballast. There are seldom many significant features (e.g., extending arms, wings, tails or the like) on the bags, and the bags are provided as an ovoid shape (with few, if any, protuberances) for balance and minimization of structural weak points (e.g., sewn areas, fused areas, sharp angles, etc.).
 Bop bags and inflatable decorations have been available for at least fifty years. In spite of, or even because of the longevity of the interest in the product, improvements are regularly sought in the structure of the bop bags and in inflatable decorations. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,961,426 asserts an improvement in bop bags by constructing them of a weighted dish (to provide the bottom weight ballast) confined within the base of the inflatable bag. Over the inflatable bag is a collapsible fabric covering/casing having an upper head zone, an intermediate torso zone, and a base zone that rests on the ground. The head and torso zones are occupied by an inflatable balloon that conforms to the contours of the covering/casing head and torso zones. Confined within the base zone is a weighted convex dish (that may have a center pole) that engages the ground and is normally aligned with a vertical axis. The gravitational force imposed on the dish causes the bag to return to its normal position after being struck, so that the bop bag retains an upright orientation. As shown in the figures, the ballast/weight is secured within the head/torso/base element, and the ‘shape’ is the classical ovoid shape of bop bags. The ‘matching shape’ of the inflatable bag is also ovoid. The need for the bag to inflate to conformation to the contours of the covering casing would require the inflatable bag to be highly conformable (to be able to conform to a wide variety of different shapes) and therefore be more like a balloon than a single shape inflatable structure (with little inflation elasticity). Balloons tend to be even more susceptible to puncture and damage because of the greater tension applied to the bag material by the stretching.
 An inflatable, decorative article is provided that allows for versatility with regard to its seasonal usage. An inflatable form may be provided with alternative appendages, alternative heads, alternative clothing, alternative facial features, alternative hair, and/or other alternative decorative features without significant modification of the underlying inflatable structure. An underlying inflatable figure is provided with connecting systems that may be positioned or are positioned in strategic locations where the specific alternative or variable features may be attached. The user of the inflatable article may select the appropriate alternative features to attach to the inflatable article, and may add additional coverings, clothing, or add-on decorative features to have the appearance of the inflatable article correspond to the appropriate season or decorative intent. In this manner, a single inflatable article may be used to provide decorations for a variety of seasons at a minimum additional cost as compared to a single season decoration.
FIG. 1 shows a side-by-side cross-section of A) an inflatable core element of the invention and B) a decorative covering for the core element.
FIG. 2 shows an inflatable Snowman being inflated with a foot-pedal pump by an adolescent.
FIG. 3 shows a cross-section/cutaway view of a bop bag decorative format with partially complete appendage attachments.
FIG. 4 shows a cutaway view of a connector system that allows rotation of appendages or accessories.
 There are a number of elements that may be used in the construction of the inflatable decorative articles of the present invention. At a minimum, there must be an inflatable core, connectors for additive features attached to the core, and the additive features. Many optional features may also be provided to enhance or improve the present invention, especially overlay decorations that may change the appearance of the decorative article.
 The Core Element
 The inflatable core element of the article constructions of the present invention comprises an inflatable core of material that can retain a fluid-tight seal, such as an air-tight seal (retain inflation). The material of the core may be any fluid-tight, air-tight, air retaining, fluid retaining, hermetically sealed (or sealable), or otherwise inflatable and inflation retaining material such as tight fabric (a tightly woven fabric, tightly knitted fabric, tightly non-woven fabric, coated fabric, etc.), film material (e.g., polymeric film material, rubber film material, natural film material) and the like. Preferred materials for use in the practice of the invention are polymeric or rubber film materials as these materials have a natural air barrier capability without significant formulation requirements. The materials used in the core must also be flexible so that they collapse when deflated and recover their shape when inflated. Particularly suitable polymeric film materials include, but are not limited to vinyl resins (e.g., polyvinylchloride, polyvinylchloride copolymers [e.g., with vinylidene chloride, vinyl acetate, vinyl alcohol, vinyl acetate, butadiene, acrylonitile, styrene, etc.], polyvinylidene chloride, polyvinylacetate, polyvinyl alcohol, polystyrene, polybutadiene, polyacrylonitrile, polyvinyl acetals, etc.), polyolefin resins (e.g., polyethylene, polypropylene and copolymers thereof), polyamides (e.g., nylons), polyurethanes, polysiloxane resins, polyisoprene, polyacrylates, and the like. Any seams that are present on the shaped segments of the core element should be tightly sealed against air leakage and may be physical seals (e.g., adhesives, stitching, stapling, taping, etc.), chemical seals (fusion, reactive adhesive, etc.), or mixtures of physical and chemical seals.
 It is most convenient to have the inflatable core pre-shaped (molded or formed) into a complete form that is desired for the central core structure of the decorative article of the present invention. That is, the core, when inflated, should exhibit the complete general appearance of the intended structure that is desired. For example, if the core is intended to represent a humanoid figure (including any primates), the inflated core could or should provide a head region (e.g., sphere, spheroid, egg shape, ellipsoid, square [for comic effect], etc.), a torso region (with an intermediate neck region being optional) that may effect any general type of torso shape (e.g., spherical snowman torso, muscular boxer torso, thin skeleton torso, shapely/curvaceous female torso, etc.), and lower body region (e.g., round snowman base, stubby leg base, running legs base, standing leg base, claw-tipped leg base, etc.). The general shape may also be more animal-like in contours, with a four-legged shape, with head (or head-connection element), neck (or neck/neck-head connection element), torso section and four-legged section. Other shapes such as a sitting position animal, lying position animal, or the like may also be used as the basic core element structure. One preferred feature of the invention is to provide a torso and lower body portion, and provide a separate, connectable head portion (as well as the separate connectable arm, leg, tail, and other appendage portions). An assortment of the head portions may be interchangeable or exchangeable on the torso/lower body inflatable section. The torso/lower body portion is inflatable, but the head may be either separately inflatable (with the inflatable core of the head not being connected to the inflatable core of the torso/lower body) or may be preformed (e.g., stuffed, inflated and sealed, molded of a more rigid material that does not require inflation, etc.). The structure should not be overly elastic, as would a balloon. For example, the structure should not stretch (linear stretch) by more than 10% with an inflation pressure change of 5 psi above atmospheric pressure (e.g., in changing from an internal gas pressure of 15.9 psi to 20.9 psi). It is more preferable that the structure should not stretch (linear stretch) by more than 8% or more than 5% with an inflation pressure change of 5 psi above atmospheric pressure (e.g., in changing from an internal gas pressure of 15.9 psi to 20.9 psi). The size of the decorative inflatable object may vary, usually between 0.3 and 2.5 meters.
 Once the inflatable core element structure has been designed, connecting elements may be provided so that decoratively enhancing or character enhancing features of appendages may be applied. This feature can be readily appreciated by reference to FIG. 1. In FIG. 1, a decorative system 2 according to the present invention is illustrated. The system 2 is exemplified by the showing of a first inflatable core element 4 comprising a lower body segment 6 and a torso segment 8, in which there is a single or double inflatable portion (that is, there is a single open cavity within both of the different segments so that inflation of one portion must cause inflation of the other portion. Five connectors (10, 12, 14, 16 and 18) are shown to assist in the connection of additional decorative or enhancing features to the inflatable decorative system 2. For example, a foot or leg position connector 12 may have a foot appendage 20 (that is a sealed, pre-filled, with light-weight blown fiber fill, or separately inflatable) attached thereto. This particular foot connector 12 is merely a stiff peg element (secured to or into or onto the inflatable bag) that is inserted into a receptor 22 on the foot appendage 20. A supporting, flat plate element (not shown) may be used to provide structural base support to the connector 12, covering a larger surface area of the inflatable bag and thereby providing greater structural support. A foot appendage 20 may be designed so that it either does or does not act to support or stabilize the article 2. The foot appendage 20 may itself be inflatable, or it may be rigid, stiff, flexible, fully inflated or the like, as long as it serves any structural or decorative requirement for the decorative system 2 (such as assisting in the vertical support of the decorative system 2). Similarly, an arm position connector 16 is shown for attachment to an arm-like appendage 24, again through a receptor 26 into which the arm position connector 16 is inserted. In this particular embodiment of FIG. 1, a head/neck connector 18 is also shown. The head may carry its own pre-formed printing and decoration on it (e.g., a printed face, ears that extend from the head, a nose that extends from the head, hair, and the like) or those features may be later added. As is typical with standard inflatable articles or bop bags, a head may be an inflatable part of the decorative system 2, but in FIG. 1 the head is demonstrated a separate head/neck attachment 28 that is fully formed and does not need inflation. In this case a light-weight fiber fill was used to stuff the head attachment. The separate head/neck attachment 28 is shown here as further provided with both a receptor 30 for the head/neck connector 18 and with a hair piece connector 32 with its own hair piece 34 and hair piece connector receptor 36. The hair piece connector may also comprise a hat connector, horn connectors, wiggling bopper connection, halo connection or other accessory connector. In this manner, many variable alternatives in the ultimate design of the inflated article may be provided. The inflation nozzle 38 is also shown in the FIG. 1. Another additional feature that may be provided is the set of connecting supports 40 that are used to support the head in an upright position against tilting or falling forward. One of the more significant failures of inflatable decorations is the tendency of the head to droop, and therefore provide a sadder countenance. By providing an adjustable set of connectors 40 (e.g., one or more matched sets of hook-and-loop fasteners, a clip strap, pin-and-hole strap, and the like) on the back-side of the head 28 and the torso 8, the head will be supported against leaning forward.
 Another alternative, which is not shown in the Figures, is that the upper body portion (torso portion) 8 may be connected to the lower body/leg portion 6 by connectors (also not shown). Each separate portion may then be separately inflatable.
FIG. 1B shows a cutaway of the decorative article system 50 of the invention with clothes 52 covering the inflatable core 54 of the invention. The clothes or decorative cover 52 may be provided with a small slit or large slit 56 through which the inflatable core 54 is inserted into the clothes or decorative cover 52. The larger the slit 56, the more inflated or partially inflated the core 54 may be when it is inserted into the decorative cover 52. It is preferred that the slit be relatively minimal in size (e.g., less than 1 meter in length) as this will minimize the appearance of openings on the back of the clothed/covered article and minimize the need for closures (e.g., buttons, hook-loop fasteners, zippers, buttons, tape, snaps, and the like) on the covering. Not shown, but another alternative improvement would be the use of a light weight puncture resistant fabric or film between the core 54 and the cover 52. This separate, light weight, puncture resistant fabric could comprise non-woven polymers, such as polyamide, polyolefin, polyester or the like, fused knit or woven or spinneret deposited fabric, or any other light weight fabric, including glass wool fabric. It is desirable that the fabric be light-weight so that stress is not placed on the structural support provided by the inflated bag or core.
 In FIG. 1B, the connectors 58 are shown extending through the cover 52 to allow for connection to appendages or accessories (not shown). There should be sufficient length to the connectors so that they can extend through the material (e.g., fabric, plastic, etc.) of the covering 52 and provide sufficient structure to enable the connectors 58 to engage with an accessory/appendage.
FIG. 2 shows a scene with a fully inflated FIG. 70 with its two arm appendages 72 attached to the inflated FIG. 70, a head appendage 74 attached to the inflated FIG. 70, a hat accessory 78 attached to the head (either as part of the head appendage 74 or as a distinct accessory), and the covering system 76 is shown as providing a scarf 80, snowman face 82, white snow-like surface 84, and buttons 86. An adolescent 88 is shown pumping a foot pedal pump 90 with a tube 92 attached to an inflation valve (not shown).
 The Connectors
 There are many different types of connectors that may be used to connect the appendages/accessories to the inflatable core, but the preferred connectors are reusable. That is, adhesive could be used (e.g., cyanoacrylate adhesive), but this would permanently bond the accessory/appendage to the inflatable core and prevent its reuse with substantially different formatting or appearance change in the shape of the inflatable decoration. Adhesive may be used to fix the connectors to the surface of the bag, with the appendages attached to the connectors then being interchangeable. Therefore, such reusable connectors (present as at least one connector at each connection site) as a peg affixed to the inflatable core and a receptor on the appendage/accessory, a snap affixed to the inflatable core and a receptor on the appendage/accessory, a clip affixed to the inflatable core and a receptor on the appendage/accessory, a slide-entry connector affixed to the inflatable core and a slide-engaging receptor on the appendage/accessory, hook-and-loop fasteners systems (e.g., Velcro® fasteners) distributed between the inflatable core and the appendage/accessory element, magnetic clips affixed to the inflatable core and a magnetic receptor on the appendage/accessory, a vacuum tip (vacuum cup) connector affixed to the inflatable core and a receptor surface or cup on the appendage/accessory, or other non-permanent connector systems may be used. Multiple connectors (e.g., two hook-and-loop fastenings) might be desirable for stability in some cases. In other cases, the peg and receptor system would offer some unique advantages. For example, if there were no locking mechanism that prevented rotation of the peg within the receptor hole, the appendages of the inflatable decoration would be movable (e.g., would swivel around the peg). There are locking mechanisms that would allow swiveling/rotation of an appendage, even though the mechanism is snapped into a securely held position. This is shown in FIG. 5.
FIG. 3 shows a cutaway view of a bop bag 100 with partially completed appendage 102, 104 attachments thereon. The bop bag 100 has an arm appendage 102 and a head appendage 104 secured to the inflatable core 110 by way of connectors 106 and 108, respectively. A heavy metal pan (e.g., lead pan) 112 is shown seated (preferable affixed) to the bottom 114 of the inflated core 110. This pan 112 is inserted into the core before inflation and may be provided in the manufactured article. The arm attachment 102 and head attachment 104 may be rotated with the attachments 106 and 108 shown. The weight and stiffness of the connectors may be balanced so that the arms rotate when the bop bag is struck.
FIG. 4 shows a rotatable securing connector 200. The structural material of the inflatable core element 202 has a post or peg 204 at the outer surface 206 of the inflatable core element 202. The post 204 has a columnar section 208 and a ball section 210. The post 204 is shown passing through a hole 214 in a fabric covering 212. The ball end 210 of the connector 204 is inside of a socket 216 within an appendage receptor port 218. There is sufficient clearance 220 between the ball end 210 and the receptor port 218 to allow for rotation, even though a smaller diameter 222 of the receptor port 218 at its opening will limit the ability of the ball end 210 to be withdrawn from the receptor port 218. This type of connection will allow easy rotation of the appendage (not shown) while fixing the appendage to the inflatable core.
 The Fabric/Cover Overlay
 The fabric overlay should again be relatively light in weight (e.g., the total weight should be less than 3 kg, desirably less than 2 kg, and preferably less than 1 kg in total weight) to reduce the structural stress on the support provided by the inflation of the core. The fabric may be shaped or stretchable to more closely form fit the contours of the torso/core of the inflatable core elements of the body and the head attached to the body. The fabric should preferably be shaped or conformable/stretchable to cover the appendages, including the head, as where a snowman shape is used and the head is also covered with the white snow-appearing fabric/covering. Open mesh fabric is very useful for providing a decorative effect with light weight. In constructing/inflating the article, the pre-filled (stuffed) arms and head could be placed into the fabric, an inflation nozzle extending through the fabric, a pump attached to the inflation nozzle and fluid pumped into the inflatable core through the nozzle. The arms, head or other appendages may be adjusted within the fabric during inflation if they become slightly dislodged. The appendages usually would be connected to the inflatable core before inflation, but could be connected after inflation.
 The decorative systems or bop bag systems of the invention may be sold as a kit, with different appendages and/or different accessories for each connector. Connector systems may be provided with a post on a support that can be adhesively secured to the inflated core, so that additional accessories may be provided. The appendages need not be only traditional accessories or features, but may be provided for tails, halos, horns, eyeglasses, additional arms, additional legs, a rider for an animal, flags, jewelry, weapons, riding crop, broomstick, basket and any other feature that would be of interest for decorative purposes. With a bop bag, for example, the facial area may have a special area (around the face) for receiving images, such as the image of a face. Then users may place a particular face (image or picture) on the bop bag when striking the bag. Different seasonal covers, such as snowmen, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, New Year Dragon, New Year baby, scarecrow, Pilgrim, Soldier, and the like may be provided with a kit for the decorative display, or connector sets or seamstress patterns may be provided from which a user may cut out their own shape. Separate costume kits may be sold independently of the inflatable article. Patches to repair the inflatable decorative object or bop bag (e.g., a rubber adhesive and rubber patch) may also be provided with the kit. Although gas (e.g., air) is a preferred inflating fluid, water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, helium, or the like may also be used to inflate the inflatable core element.