US 20040060100 A1
A neck protector for use with headgear in protecting the user's back or dorsal region of the neck from injury. An envelope is formed with a plurality of first chambers that are arranged sequentially to form a layer of a series of lengthwise pockets. A second layer of chambers are arranged and attached to the first layer of chambers to overlap the partitions of the first layer of chambers. A substantially rigid, curved member is contained in each of the chambers in both layers. A padded material is preferably permanently attached to each of the rigid, curved members on the side facing the neck of the individual when in use. The envelope also has means for attachment to existing protective headgear.
1. An apparatus for use with headgear in protecting the back of the neck from injury, the apparatus comprising:
an envelope comprising:
a first layer of a plurality of elongated chambers laterally positioned adjacent to one another; and
a second layer of a plurality of elongated chambers positioned laterally adjacent to one another, wherein said second layer is positioned parallel to said first layer in a staggered fashion;
a first set of substantially rigid members, each contained within one the chambers of said first layer;
a second set of substantially rigid members, each contained within one of the chambers of said second layer; and
a means for attachment of the apparatus to the headgear.
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7. An apparatus for use with headgear in protecting the back of the neck from injury, the apparatus comprising:
an envelope comprising:
a first layer of a plurality of elongated chambers positioned adjacent to one another;
a second layer of a plurality of elongated chambers positioned adjacent to one another, said second layer being attached substantially parallel to said first layer in a staggered fashion;
a first set of substantially rigid members, each contained within one of the chambers of the first layer;
a second set of substantially rigid members, each contained within one of the chambers of the second layer, said second set of members being padded on one side thereof; and
a means for attachment of said envelope to the headgear.
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20. An apparatus for use with headgear in protecting the back of the neck from injury, the apparatus comprising:
a first layer of substantially rigid members, laterally positioned adjacent to one another;
a second layer of substantially rigid members, laterally positioned adjacent to one another, wherein said second layer is positioned parallel to said first layer in a staggered fashion;
a flexible material connecting adjacent rigid members of said second layer with the staggered rigid members of said first layer; and
means for attachment of the apparatus to the headgear,
wherein a continuous flexible impenetrable barrier is formed, thereby protecting the back of the neck from injury.
 1. Field of the Invention
 This invention relates generally to body protection equipment, and more particularly to an apparatus to protect the neck of an individual from injury.
 2. Discussion of the Related Art
 Various forms of headgear exist for protection, primarily of the cranial area for individuals in dangerous situations, such as military, law enforcement, corrections and civil disturbance control. Most of these headgear arc in the form of helmets, which may be manufactured to detailed specifications, depending to the intended application. For example, the U.S. military specifies a PASGT helmet for ground troops. This helmet is designed to provide ballistic and fragmentation protection with Kevlar® ballistic Aramid cloth construction and layered and bonded impregnated resin. Accessories for this and other helmets are available, including helmet covers, straps for attaching facial shields and padding for use in parachuting. In addition, specific accessories are available to protect the facial area, such as goggles and face shields. However, there are relatively few satisfactory accessories to protect the back or dorsal region of an individual's neck. The dorsal region, or back, of the neck contains numerous vital tissues, for example the spinal cord. In civil disturbances, rocks and flammable liquids, such as gasoline, are commonly thrown. In corrections environments, stabbing is a common occurrence as detainees have proven to be particularly resourceful in fabricating weapons from seemingly harmless starting materials.
 In two currently available garments, described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,797,140 and 6,195,802, a ballistic resistant vest contains a foldable ballistic panel or collar that can be extended over the individual's neck. Although the panels provide ballistic resistance, they do not provide resistance from other injury such as flaming liquid. In addition, it is relatively easy for a knife or other stabbing device to be inserted above the panel thereby gaining access to the neck.
 Currently available protection devices may provide ballistic protection, or general non-ballistic protection for most vital parts of the body. However, there is no currently available device that protects the back or dorsal region of the neck from blunt force trauma, that is fire-retardant, and that is constructed to provide a seamless impenetrable barrier against stabbing, or flammable liquid for example, while at the same time remaining comfortable and adjustable for a wide range of users and neck positions. With currently available devices the back or dorsal region of the neck may be a particularly vulnerable area of an otherwise potentially well protected person.
 One object of the invention is to provide a device that protects the back of the neck against injury from any outside agency. In one embodiment of the invention the device is flexible so that it allows normal range of motion while still providing a continuous barrier to the posterior of the neck.
 It is also another object of the invention to provide protection against corrosive, flammable or burning liquids, as well as protection against blunt force trauma and stabbing. In addition, the device attaches conveniently and securely to the back of a helmet without any gaps or passages where either a liquid substance or solid object could penetrate.
 In one embodiment, the protective device of the invention comprises a cloth support structure with two layers of overlapping chambers that are horizontally oriented. In each chamber, a plate is inserted. In a preferred embodiment, the plates are curved to approximate the curve of the back of the helmet to which the device is attached. In addition, the plates are preferably shaped and configured so that their widths are narrow toward their interior regions and gradually taper to wider widths near their ends. Plates are also preferably padded on the surface next to the neck. The chambers hold the plates in an overlapping configuration, so that the plates in the outer layer cover the gaps between the plates in the inner layer. Once the plates are installed, the ends of the chambers are sealed.
 Also in another preferred embodiment, the protective device is attached to the rear edge a helmet in a manner that maintains the protector in a secure and sealed relationship with the helmet, so that liquid or objects cannot penetrate between the helmet and the neck protector.
 The objects, advantages and features of this invention will be more clearly perceived from the following detailed description, when read in conjunction with the accompanying drawing, in which:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the relative position of the two sets of chambers constructed in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the relative placement of the plates to be mounted in the FIG. 1 embodiment;
FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the neck protector in accordance with an embodiment of the invention using hook and loop connectors as means for attaching the neck protector to headgear;
FIG. 4 is a representation of a preferred shape of the substantially rigid members of FIG. 2;
FIG. 5 is a side view of the protective device of another embodiment of the invention wherein no envelope is provided;
FIG. 6a is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of one embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with a hook and loop fastener strip on the outside of the helmet;
FIG. 6b is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of one embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with a hook and loop fastener strip on the inside of the helmet;
FIG. 6c is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of an embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with a strap on the outside of the helmet;
FIG. 6d is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of an embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with snaps;
FIG. 6e is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of an embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with a clip; and
FIG. 6f is a side view showing attachment of the protective device of an embodiment of the invention to the back of a helmet with bolts or rivets.
 The present invention relates to safety gear, specifically, posterior neck protection which is selectively attachable to existing headgear. Various embodiments of the invention employ at least two layers of elongated rigid members or plates, which are overlapped or layered to allow flexible movement, while providing continuous coverage at each joint. The objects and advantages of the invention are to provide protection for the user's posterior neck from forceful blows from blunt objects, burns from caustic chemicals or flammable fluids, as well as penetration from sharp, stabbing instruments. The invention provides protection to the user by covering what is believed to be the most vulnerable area for a person, namely, the back of the neck between a helmet and body protective gear.
 An embodiment of the invention has an envelope made of a tightly woven or nonporous material. Equally spaced parallel seams are sewn into the fabric. A second envelope is formed with seams equally spaced to those of the first envelope, but offset preferably by one-half the width of the seam relative to the seams of the first envelope. As used herein, the term “staggered” refers to where the seams are offset so that they do not directly overlap in the first and second rows of chambers. The first and second rows of chambers share one common wall. In those applications where protection against flame or fire is desired, a preferred embodiment of the protective device of the present invention will have an envelope that is flame retardant. The envelope will be made of cloth having flame retardant fiber therein. In a further preferred embodiment, this cloth will be completely made from flame retardant fiber. This material is also preferably tightly woven, thereby providing less chance for absorbance of a flammable liquid. A particular example for a material satisfying these functional requirements is a cloth sold by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, under the trademark Nomex. In those applications where fire is not a concern or threat, any cloth material may be used.
 The neck protector of an embodiment of the invention is preferably formed with curved, elongated, rigid strips or plates of material such as metal, hard plastics, rawhide, or any other material known in the art to serve a supporting function. The plates may also be made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, or puncture resistant man-made fiber. The plates are slightly smaller than the spaces created by the seams of the envelope to allow for flexible wear by the user. The plates may be molded to approximate the shape of the neck and they may be somewhat flexible to allow additional user comfort. The plates are inserted into the envelopes so that the invention takes on the shape of a planar curve.
 In preferred embodiments, the curved plates that are closest to the neck of the user are attached to, or lined with, a padded material. The padding may be attached by means well known to those skilled in the art, including for example, contact adhesive. The material is also preferably flame retardant and resistant to fluid absorption. Such materials may include closed cell thermoplastic foam or flame retardant felt enclosed in a liquid impervious pouch. The padding is attached to the interior surface of the curved plates, and placed on the interior-most surface in relation with the user's head to provide shock absorption from forceful blows to the user's neck.
 The invention is equipped with a means of attachment to existing headgear. Means of attachment can include hook and loop fastener strips, snaps, clips, clamps, buckles, glue, brackets, straps, bolts, or any other method of attachment known in the art. In a preferred means of attachment, the neck protector will be secured to the headgear such that it remains secured throughout a wide range of neck motions and vigorous activity, while also providing no gaps between the neck protector and the headgear where liquids or objects could otherwise penetrate.
 In an alternative embodiment, the invention may be made without an envelope by adhering strips of fabric to a face of the rigid plates. The attachment could be performed by any number of methods currently known in the art such as seams, staples, adhesives, tacks, screws, among others.
 Referring now to the drawing and more particularly to FIG. 1, a preferred embodiment of an envelope in accordance with the invention is shown, wherein first set of chambers 1 and second set of chambers 2 share common wall 3. The planar curved shape 4 of the envelope is imposed by rigid members contained within the chambers (not shown in this figure). Pockets 5, of the first set of chambers are relatively smaller than pockets 6 of the second set of chambers 2. The size difference is to allow for padding on the surface of the plates that are nearest to the user's neck. The means for attachment 7 is shown as a flap of material, which is wound around an existing helmet strap (see FIG. 6c).
 Referring now to FIG. 2, a perspective view of a preferred embodiment of the substantially rigid members or plates 8, are shown in relative placement as outer and inner sets of plates along a common planar curve. The plates are preferably about 10 inches in length. However, any suitable length is contemplated herein, so long at it approximately covers the neck of a particular individual. In addition, the plates are preferably about 1 mm to about 5 mm thick. The plates are also preferably made of a plastic material with relatively high heat distortion temperature and low flammability.
 Padding 9 on the interior surfaces of the inner set of plates is shown to be substantially thicker than that of the rigid members themselves. It is contemplated herein that in one embodiment, padding 9 is not present. The padding is however present in a preferred embodiment. Padding 9 may also be on the interior surface of all the inner set of plates if desired. The padding is preferably flame retardant, resistant to the penetration or absorption of liquids, and is about ¼ inch thick. Plates 8 are shown in an overlapping configuration so that the gaps in one layer or set are covered by the plates in the other layer. This may be referred to as an “armadillo effect” because as the invention expands or contracts, there is always at least one plate layer over the entire surface, so that no gap is exposed.
 Referring now to FIG. 3, a perspective view of a flattened envelope is shown wherein hook and loop fastener strips 10 are used as the means to attach the device to an existing helmet. These strips can be sewn or otherwise attached to the envelope itself.
 Referring now to FIG. 4, a front view of the preferred shape of a plate 11 is shown. The basic shape of the plate is wider at either end than at the mid-section. This shape allows more comfortable wearing of the device. For example, when the neck is extended backward, the shape of the plates described herein allows greater range of motion. This improves the wearability of the device in that greater range of neck motion is achieved while reducing the chance that stress on the attachment means will cause the device to come off the headgear, or cause the helmet to come off the user's head.
 Referring now to FIGS. 6a to 6 f, a side view of an existing helmet employing various methods of attachment of the invention is shown. FIGS. 6a and 6 b demonstrate the use of hook and loop fastener strip 12 attached to the interior or exterior of the helmet. FIG. 6c demonstrates a strap and clip method of attachment. Strap 13 closely encircles the circumference of the helmet. Flap 7 of neck protector is looped over strap 13 and secured to itself by glue, hook and loop fasteners, clips, rivets, thread or any other method known to secure one item to another. To counter the tension on the strap, clips 14 are positioned near the front and on the sides of the helmet. The clips assure that strap 13 does not slip off the helmet when the weight of the neck protector is supported by the strap. It is also possible that the neck protector can be coupled to the strap of a face shield converter, which is mounted to the helmet. FIG. 6d demonstrates how snaps 15 may be used to attach the neck protective device to a helmet. FIG. 6e shows a partial view of how counter set of channel elements 16 may be used to quickly attach and detach the protective device to a helmet. An upwardly facing channel is permanently attached to the helmet and a downward facing channel on the protective device removably secures it to the helmet. FIG. 6f demonstrates that the protective device may be permanently attached to a helmet by means of rivets or bolts 17, for example.
 Referring now to FIG. 5, a side view of another alternate embodiment is shown wherein no envelope is required. A “T” or “Y shaped flexible material 19 is used to provide a continuous barrier of liquid protection. In this embodiment, plates 22 and 24 themselves provide a majority of the protection from various elements. Flexible material 19 is permanently attached to the plates using attachment means 20. The attachment means can be any suitable means, for example, glue. One end of the flexible material is adhered to a plate face, the other two ends are adhered to two adjoining plate sides. This arrangement provides the desired flexibility to the protection device, while at the same time providing a continuous impenetrable barrier.
 While the present invention has been illustrated and described by means of specific embodiments, it is to be understood that numerous changes and modifications can be made therein without departing from the scope of the claims and equivalents thereto.