US 20030000039 A1
A sponge assembly includes an elongated handle having a first end and an opposing second end. A mesh sponge is secured at the first end of the handle. Disposed between the first end of the handle and the second end of the handle is a hinge assembly. The hinge assembly enables moving of the handle between a folded position and an unfolded position. Formed on a joint of the hinge assembly is a notch. A latch is slidably mounted on the handle. At least a portion of the latch is configured to be slidably received within the notch on the hinge joint when the handle is in the unfolded position so as to lock the handle in the unfolded position.
1. A sponge assembly comprising:
an elongated handle having a first end and an opposing second end;
a sponge secured at the first end of the handle;
a hinge disposed between the first end of the handle and the second end of the handle so as to enable moving of the handle between a folded position and an unfolded position; and
means for selectively locking the hinge when the handle is in the unfolded position.
2. A sponge assembly as recited in
a notch formed on the hinge; and
a latch slidably mounted on the handle, at least a portion of the latch being configured to be received within the notch on the hinge so as to prevent moving of the handle between the folded position and the unfolded position.
3. A sponge assembly as recited in
4. A sponge assembly as recited in
5. A sponge assembly as recited in
6. A sponge assembly as recited in
an arm having a first end and an opposing second end, the first end of the arm being secured to the first portion of the handle; and
a catch formed on the second end of the arm, the catch being configured to selectively engage the second portion of the handle.
7. A sponge assembly as recited in
8. A sponge assembly comprising:
an elongated handle having a first end and an opposing second end;
a mesh sponge secured at the first end of the handle;
a hinge assembly disposed between the first end of the handle and the second end of the handle so as to enable moving of the handle between a folded position and an unfolded position, the hinge having a notch formed thereon; and
a latch slidably mounted on the handle, at least a portion of the latch being configured to be selectively received within the notch on the hinge when the hinge in the unfolded position so as to lock the handle in the unfolded position.
9. A sponge assembly as recited in
10. A sponge assembly as recited in
11. A sponge assembly as recited in
a body; and
a pair of flexible fingers projecting from the body, the flexible fingers securing the body to the handle.
12. A sponge assembly as recited in
13. A sponge assembly as recited in
14. A sponge assembly as recited in
15. An assembly comprising:
a first structural member;
a first hinge joint secured to the first structural member, the first hinge joint having opposing end faces with a side face each extending therebetween, a notch being recessed on the side face of the first hinge joint;
a second structural member;
a second hinge joint secured to the second structural member;
a pin rotatably securing the first hinge joint to the second hinge joint; and
a latch slidably mounted on the second structural member, a portion of the latch being configured to be selectively received within the notch on the first hinge joint so as to prevent rotation between the first hinge joint and the second hinge joint.
16. An assembly as recited in
17. An assembly as recited in
18. An assembly as recited in
19. A method for packaging comprising:
obtaining a sponge assembly comprising:
an elongated handle having a first end and an opposing second end;
a sponge secured at the first end of the handle; and
a hinge assembly disposed between the first end of the handle and the second end of the handle so as to enable moving of the handle between a folded position and an unfolded position;
folding the handle into the folded position;
inserting the folded handle into a select hole formed on a box, the box comprising:
a perimeter wall upstanding from the floor and bounding a compartment; and
a support shelf at least partially disposed within the compartment at a spaced apart location above the floor, a plurality of holes extending through the support shelf, the select hole being chosen from the plurality of holes.
20. A method as recited in
 Not applicable.
 1. The Field of the Invention
 The present invention relates to hinges and, more specifically, locking hinges used on a handle of a mesh sponge assembly.
 2. The Relevant Technology
 Mesh bath sponges are common household bath accessories which are used for the application of soap, such as during showering or bathing. A conventional mesh bath sponge is formed from polymeric mesh netting material that has been manipulated into a substantially spherical ball of irregular ruffles. In one use, the mesh bath sponge is secured at the end of an elongated rigid handle. The handle enables easy application of the sponge on an individuals back and lower extremities.
 Although mesh bath sponges with handle are useful, the conventional design has various shortcomings. For example, due to the extended length of the rigid handle, the mesh sponge assembly is often difficult to pack in a small travel bag or store in a drawer or cabinet.
 An additional problem with the conventional sponge assemblies with handle relates to their retail sale. That is, again because of the elongated length of the handle, the sponge assemblies take up considerable shelf space within a store. Typically, the elongated sponge assemblies are supported on a rack by a cord which extends from the end of the handle. Even if the mesh sponge assemblies are displayed with the mesh sponge portions being close together, the remaining handle portions partially obstruct a relatively large adjacent space which thus becomes wasted store space. Therefore, the conventional mesh sponge assemblies with hand cannot be efficiently displayed in a store without occupying extensive shelf space.
 A sponge assembly includes an elongated handle having a first end and an opposing second end. A sponge, such as a mesh bath sponge, is secured at the first end of the handle so as to substantially cover the first end of the handle. The handle includes a first handle portion and a second handle portion.
 Securing the first handle portion to the second handle portion is a hinge assembly. The hinge assembly enables moving of the handle between a collapsed folded position and a substantially linear unfolded position. The hinge assembly includes a hinge joint formed on the first handle portion. Formed on the hinge joint is a notch.
 A latch is slidably mounted on the second handle portion. At least a portion of the latch is configured to be slidably received within the notch on the hinge joint when the handle is in the unfolded position. When the latch is received within the notch, the handle is locked in the elongated unfolded position. The sponge assembly can then be use in a conventional manner. When the latch is retracted out of the notch, the handle can be collapsed into the folded position for ease in packaging, storing, and/or displaying.
 These and other features of the present invention will become more fully apparent from the following description and appended claims, or may be learned by the practice of the invention as set forth hereinafter.
 To further clarify the above and other advantages and features of the present invention, a more particular description of the invention will be rendered by reference to specific embodiments thereof which are illustrated in the appended drawings. It is appreciated that these drawings depict only typical embodiments of the invention and are therefore not to be considered limiting of its scope. The invention will be described and explained with additional specificity and detail through the use of the accompanying drawings in which:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a sponge assembly including an elongated handle having a mesh sponge attached at the end thereof.
FIG. 2 is a elevated side view of a plurality of gathered bands of mesh material positioned for attached to the end of the handle shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a cross sectional side view of the gathered bands of mesh material shown in FIG. 2 being attached to the end of the handle;
FIG. 4 is a disassembled perspective view of the hinge assembly for the handle shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 5 is an elevated cross sectional side view of the hinge assembly shown in FIG. 4 in a locked position;
FIG. 6 is an elevated cross sectional side view of the hinge assembly shown in FIG. 4 in an unlocked position;
 FIGS. 7-9 are perspective views of alternative hinge and locking designs for use with the handle shown in FIG. 1; and
FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a display box housing a plurality of the folded sponge assemblies shown in FIG. 1.
 The present invention relates to hinges and, more particularly, locking hinges used on the handle of a sponge assembly. Depicted in FIG. 1 is one embodiment of a sponge assembly 10 incorporating features of the present invention. Sponge assembly 10 comprises an elongated handle 12 having a lead end 14 and an opposing tail end 16. In the embodiment depicted, handle 12 is slightly arched and has a front face 11 and an opposing back face 13 which extends between the opposing ends 14 and 16. Handle 12 also has opposing side edge 8 and 9 which partially bound the substantially rectangular transverse cross section of handle 12.
 In one embodiment, handle 12 is injection molded from a plastic such as polycarbonate. In alternative embodiments, handle 12 can be molded in any desired way from a variety of different materials such as other plastics, composites, metals and the like. Handle 12 can also have any desired transverse cross sections such as round, square, triangular, or irregular. Furthermore, the cross section can change along the length.
 Positioned at first end 14 of handle 12 is a mesh sponge 17. Extending through tail end 16 is an aperture 32. A looped cord 34 extends through aperture 32 to facilitate hanging or attachment of sponge assembly 10.
 Handle 12 can be further defined in terms of an elongated upper handle portion 18 and an elongated lower handle portion 20. Upper handle portion 18 has a first end 22 and an opposing second end 24. Similarly, lower handle portion 20 has a first end 26 and an opposing second end 28. Second end 24 of handle portion 18 and first end 26 of handle portion 20 are connected together by a hinge assembly 30 that will be discussed below in greater detail.
 Depicted in FIG. 2 is one embodiment of a manufacturing apparatus 40 used in the formation and attachment of mesh sponge 17. Manufacturing apparatus 40 comprises a base 42 having a pair of spaced apart supports 44 and 46 upwardly projecting therefrom. Each support 44 and 46 terminates at a free end 48 that is typically rounded. Supports 44 and 46 can be any desired configuration and need only have a slot or spaced formed therebetween. Furthermore, supports 44 and 46 can be secured in their spaced apart configuration by being mounted or secured in any desired manner and on any desired structure.
 Mesh sponge 17 is typically made from mesh tubing. One example is low density polyethylene diamond mesh that is extruded in the form of an elongated tube. This mesh is substantially the same as that commonly used in fruit and vegetable bags. It is appreciated that the drawings of the material for sponge 17 in the figures is merely illustrative and may not be a precise depiction of the diamond mesh netting.
 During manufacture a first length of tubular mesh, typically having a length in a range between about 3 yards to about 5 yards, is radially and outwardly stretched and received over free end 48 of each spaced apart support 44 and 46. The length of tubular mesh is longitudinally compressed or gathered to form a band 50 that continually encircled supports 44 and 46. Once continuous band 50 is formed, the process is repeated for two other discrete tubes of mesh material so as to form bands 52 and 54. Each band 50-54 has opposing central portions 4 and 5 that are centrally disposed between supports 44 and 46. Each band 50-54 also has a pair of opposing end portions 6 and 7 that are generally located at or adjacent to supports 44 and 46.
 At this stage, lead end 14 of handle 12 is centrally disposed within stretched bands 50-54. Extending through lead end 14 are three pairs of spaced apart holes 36. As depicted in FIG. 3, a self-locking plastic tie 56 is passed through a corresponding pair of holes 36 and around each opposing side of a corresponding band. Each tie 56 is pulled tight and locked off so that each band 50-54 is securely retained on handle 12. In contrast to using plastic ties 56, it is appreciated that string, cord, or any other type of line or fastener can also be used.
 Once ties 56 are at least partially tightened around bands 50-54, as depicted in FIG. 3, each band 50-54 is incrementally released from supports 44 and 46 starting with upper band 54. Specifically, select portions of end portions 6 and 7 of band 54 are drawn off of corresponding supports 44 and 46 and outwardly stretched. The stretched portions are then released and allowed to rebound off of supports 44 and 46. This plucking action of drawing, stretching, and releasing incremental portions of end portions 6 and 7 is repeated until band 54 is removed from supports 44 and 46. The process is then repeated for band 52 and then band 50. As a result, bands 50-54 are formed into sponge 17 which comprises a plurality of radially outwardly projection ruffles which cover lead end 14 of handle 12.
 To produce sponge 17 having a full body configuration, the select end portions 6 and 7 of each band 50-54 can be incrementally stretched off of supports 44 and 46 at virtually any 360 degree angle relative to supports 44 and 46. Furthermore, the select portions can be incrementally drawn off in the same or opposing direction and can be drawn off at the same time or different times. The orientation in which the select portions are drawn off and stretched can vary during the release of each band 50-54. Although three bands 50-54 are depicted in FIGS. 2 and 3, it is appreciated that sponge 17 can be formed from one or more bands.
 Furthermore, in contrast to using single lengths of mesh tubing to form bands 50-54, a plurality of discrete lengths of mesh tubing can be used. For example, a first mesh tubing can be vertically disposed above a second mesh tubing to form a single band. Alternatively, a first mesh tubing can be concentrically disposed within a second mesh tubing to form a single band. Furthermore, different mesh tubings can have different colors, textures, composition, mesh sizes, and other alternative properties to further enhance the look and functionality of the resulting sponge.
 An alternative method regarding the formation and attachment of mesh sponge 17 to handle 12 is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,687,447 to Bynum et al which patent is incorporated herein by specific reference. In yet another embodiment, it is appreciated that a mesh sponge can be independently formed first and then secured to the end of handle 12.
 In contrast to securing a mesh sponge to handle 12, it is also appreciated that other types of sponges such as natural loofah, foam sponges, terry cloth sponges and the like can also be secured to the end of handle 12. It is also appreciated that structures other than sponges can also be secured thereto
 Depicted in FIG. 4 is an exploded view of hinge assembly 30 shown in FIG. 1. As shown therein, hinge assembly 30 comprises a first hinge joint 60 having a substantially disk shaped configuration. Specifically, first hinge joint 60 has a circular first end face 62, an opposing circular second end face 64, and a substantially cylindrical side face 66 extending therebetween. Also extending between end faces 62 and 64 is a central axial opening 68. Formed on side face 66 is a notch 70. In one embodiment, notch 70 has a substantially V-shaped transverse cross section and extends to axial opening 68.
 First hinge joint 60 is secured at second end 24 of handle portion 18. Specifically, second end 24 of handle portion 18 terminates at an end face 72 which intersects with front face 11 of handle 12. A curved recess 74 extends between end face 72 and back face 13 of handle 12. First hinge joint 60 is centrally disposed along curved recess 74 so as to outwardly project from back face 13. It is appreciated that in one embodiment, first hinge joint 60 is integrally molded with handle 12 from the same material. In alternative embodiments, hinge assembly 30 or elements thereof can be made form a different material than handle 12 and can be separately attached thereto.
 Hinge assembly 30 also comprises a second hinge joint 80 and a third hinge joint 82 mounted in spaced apart positions at first end 26 of handle portion 20. Like first hinge joint 60, second hinge joint 80 is also substantially disk shaped having a circular inside end face 84, a circular outside end face 86, and a substantially cylindrical side face 88 extending therebetween. Also extending between end faces 84 and 86 is a central axial opening 90. Unlike first hinge joint 60, however, second hinge joint 80 does not include a notch although a notch can be formed thereon. Third hinge joint 82 is substantially identical to second hinge joint 80 and like elements will be identified with like reference characters.
 First end 26 of handle portion 20 terminates at an end face 92 which intersects with front face 11 of handle 12. A curved recess 94 extends between end face 92 and back face 13 of handle 12. Second hinge joint 80 and third hinge joint 82 are spaced apart along curved recess 94 so as to outwardly project from back face 13. As with first hinge joint 60, second hinge joint 80 and third hinge joint 82 can be integrally molded with or separately attached to handle portion 20.
 During assembly, first hinge joint 60 is disposed between second hinge joint 80 and third hinge joint 82 so that axial openings 68 and 90 are aligned. A pin 96, typically made from a metal such as brass or steel, is advanced through the openings so as to be held therein by frictional engagement. Pin 96 holds hinge joints 60, 80, and 82 together so that hinge joint 60 can freely rotate relative to hinge joints 80 and 82. In this configuration, handle portions 18 and 20 can move between an unfolded position and a folded position. In the unfolded position, as depicted in FIGS. 1 and 5, handle portions 18 and 20 are aligned so that end face 72 of handle portion 18 butts against end face 92 of handle portion 20. In the folded position, as depicted in FIG. 6, handle 12 is bent at hinge assembly 30.
 Although hinge assembly 30 is shown as including three hinge joints, in alternative embodiments, it is appreciated that hinge assembly 30 can include only two hinge joints or four or more hinge joints.
 Sponge assembly 10 also includes, a latch 100. Latch 100 includes a substantially flat body 102 having a top surface 104 with ridges formed thereon and an opposing bottom surface 106. As depicted in FIGS. 4 and 5, a substantially L-shaped nose 108 projects from the front end of bottom surface 106. Downwardly projecting from the back end of bottom surface 106 is a stop 110. A pair of spaced apart fingers 112 also downwardly project from bottom surface 106 between nose 108 and stop 110. Outwardly projecting from each finger 112 is a barb 114.
 Latch 100 is configured to be slidably received within an elongated slot 120 formed at first end 26 of handle portion 20. Slot 120 comprises a substantially rectangular recess 122 that is formed on font face 11 of handle portion 20. Recess 122 is bounded by a side wall 124 and a floor 126. Extending through floor 126 to back face 13 of handle portion 20 is a substantially rectangular opening 128. Opening 128 is bounded by opposing side walls 130. Each side wall 130 has an upper portion 132, a lower portion 134, and an inwardly projecting shoulder 136 extending therebetween. A channel 138 is recessed within back face 13 of handle portion 20 and extends from opening 128 to between hinge joints 80 and 82.
 As depicted in FIG. 5, latch 100 is slidably disposed within slot 120. Specifically, body 102 is received within recess 122 and supported on floor 126. Nose 108 extends through opening 128 and projects into channel 138. Fingers 112 extend down into opening 128 such that barbs 114 bias against shoulder 136, thereby securing latch 100 within slot 120.
 Latch 100 can be selectively moved between an advanced position and a retracted position. When handle 12 is in the unfolded position, notch 70 is aligned with channel 138. In this configuration, latch 100 can be selectively moved into the advanced position such that nose 108 is pushed into notch 70. In this position, nose 108 biases against first hinge joint 60, thereby lock hinge 30 and handle 12 into the unfolded position. Sponge assembly 10 can then be used in its fixed elongated configuration. Nose 108 is snuggly fit in frictional engagement within notch 70 so as to prevent accidental withdrawal of nose 108 from notch 70. Pressure ridges, a pawl and detent, or the like can also be used to help secure nose 108 within notch 70.
 When it is desired to fold handle 12, latch 120 is selectively slide backward into the retracted position as shown in FIG. 6. Specifically, latch 110 is slide backward until stop 110 bias against back wall 98. In this position, nose 108 is retracted out of notch 70 such that hinge 30 can be freely rotated. As such, handle 12 can be collapsed into the folded position. In this folded position, sponge assembly 10 can be easily stored or packaged.
 It is appreciated that one of the benefits of the design of hinge assembly 30 and latch 100 is that no sharp edges or comers are exposed. As such, sponge assembly 10 can be safely used during bathing.
 In one embodiment, the present invention includes means for selectively locking hinge 30 when handle 12 is in the unfolded position. By way of example and not by limitation, one example of the means for selectively locking comprises latch 100 used in conjunction with slot 70. In an alternative embodiment, it is appreciated that latch 100 can also be slidably mounted on upper portion 18 while slot 70 is formed on hinge joint 80 or 82. It is also appreciated that notch 70 and latch 100 can have a variety of different configurations. For example, in contrast to having a substantially V-shaped transverse cross section, notch 70 can also have a substantially square, rectangular, or other cross section.
 Depicted in FIGS. 7-9 are alternative hinge designs and corresponding alternative means for selectively locking the hinge when the handle thereof is in the unfolded position. Depicted in FIGS. 7-9, like elements compared to the embodiments in FIGS. 1-5 are identified by like reference characters.
 Depicted in FIG. 7, handle portion 18 and handle portion 20 are secured together by a hinge assembly 148. Hinge assembly 148 includes a hinge joint 150 mounted on handle portion 18. A notch 152 is recessed within hinge joint 150. A pair of spaced apart hinge joints 154 and 156 are mounted on handle portion 20 on opposing sides of hinge joint 150. A pin 158 longitudinally extends through hinge joints 150, 154, and 156 so as to enable rotational movement therebetween.
 A latch 158 includes a body 162 that is slidably mounted on a recessed section 157 of handle portion 20 adjacent to hinge assembly 148. In this embodiment, body 162 either completely or partially encircles recessed section 157 of handle portion 20. For example, body 162 can be clipped onto recessed section 157 using flexible fingers such as on latch 100. Alternatively, body 162 can be wrapped or otherwise disposed around recessed section 157 and then secured to itself, such as by spot welding or adhesive, so that it is still freely slidable. Projecting from body 162 is a nose 160. Nose 160 is configured to selectively slide into notch 152 for selectively locking hinge assembly 148.
 In the embodiment depicted in FIG. 8, handle portion 18 is secured to handle portion 20 by hinge assembly 170. Hinge assembly 170 is substantially the same as hinge assembly 30 except that it does not include notch 70. Formed on front face 11 of handle portion 18 is a recess 172 bounded by a floor 174. Extending through floor 174 is an opening 176. A recess 178 is also formed on front face 11 of handle portion 20.
 An elongated arm 180 has a first end 182 and an opposing second end 184. First end 182 is hingedly mounted within recess 178 by a pin 186. A resiliently biased catch 188 is position at second end 184 of arm 180. Catch 188 includes a barbed finger 190 projecting therefrom. Barbed finger 190 is configured to be selectively received within opening 176 such that barbed finger 190 catches below floor 174, thereby securing arm 180 to handle portion 18. In this configuration, handle portions 18 and 20 are locked together preventing rotation at hinge assembly 170. In turn, catch 188 can be manually manipulated to release barbed finger 190, thereby enabling selective folding of handle 12 at hinge 170.
 Depicted in FIG. 9, handle portions 18 and 20 are connected together by a hinge assembly 200. Specifically, handle portion 18 terminates at a recessed post 204 having a hinge joint 206 centrally projecting therefrom. Handle portion 20 also terminates at a recessed post 207 having hinge joints 208 and 210 projecting therefrom. Hinge joints 206, 208, and 210 are connected together by a pin 212. A latch 214 is slidably mounted on the recessed portion of handle portion 20. Latch 214 can be designed as discussed above with regard to body 162 in FIG. 7. When handle portions 18 and 20 are longitudinally aligned in the unfolded position, latch 214 can be slidably positioned over top of hinge assembly 200, thereby locking handle 12 in the unfolded position. When desired, latch 214 can be slid back off of hinge 200, thereby enabling selective folding of handle 12.
 As previously discussed, one of the unique benefits of the present invention is that it enables the resulting sponge assembly 10 to be easily packaged and displayed for retail sale using minimal shelf space. For example, depicted in FIG. 10 is a display box 220. Display box 220 includes a floor 222 having a primeter side wall 224 upwardly projecting therefrom. Perimeter side wall 224 and floor 222 bound a compartment 226. Disposed within compartment 226 is a shelf 228 which is supported a distance above floor 222. Extending through shelf 228 is a plurality of spaced apart holes 230.
 During use, inventive sponge assembly 10 is collapsed into the folded position. The hinge end of the folded sponge assembly 10 is then passed through a select opening 230 so that the hinged end rests upon floor 222. The surrounding shelf 228 supports sponge assembly 10 in the upstanding position. A lid, not shown, can be positioned over top of display box 220 so as to enclose chamber 226.
 The present invention may be embodied in other specific forms without departing from its spirit or essential characteristics. The described embodiments are to be considered in all respects only as illustrative and not restrictive. The scope of the invention is, therefore, indicated by the appended claims rather than by the foregoing description. All changes which come within the meaning and range of equivalency of the claims are to be embraced within their scope.