REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/715,053 filed on Sep. 7, 2005.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a reusable placemat for use primarily by infants, toddlers, and the like.
Children, particularly infants and toddlers, are messy eaters. They tend to eat with their hands, and they frequently do not effectively use bowls or plates. As a result, they tend to spill food on themselves and around their surrounding areas during meal times.
In addition to this mess, childrens' eating styles tend to allow their food and beverages to frequently contact potentially unclean surfaces. For example, children often let food fall to the floor, and they are sometimes prone to retrieving these dropped items and eating them before a parent can intervene. Moreover, the general cleanliness of a tabletop in a restaurant is often undeterminable.
Efforts to address these issues have focused on providing protective barriers around the child and/or table. For example, infants frequently wear washable bibs. Similarly, the meal table and even the floor around the child are often covered with a protective covering such as a tablecloth or the like.
While these protective cover solutions reduce the clean-up time and protect furniture and the like, they have several drawbacks. For example, these protective cover devices do little to help contain spills or prevent food from falling to the floor during mealtime. Moreover, reusable bibs and tablecloths must be washed between use. In practice, frequently washing large tablecloths grows burdensome.
Placemats have been used in an attempt to protect children from unclean surfaces and reduce clean-up time. Such placemats are usually substantially planar mats formed of either disposable paper or reusable plastic. While these types of devices reduce the workload associated with cleaning them between meals, they do little to help contain spills or prevent food from falling to the floor during meal time. Moreover, the small and flexible nature of these mats permits them to frequently become a toy for the child. Some children will even pull up such mats while their food and beverages are resting thereon, thereby causing an even bigger mess than would have been created by not using the placemat at all.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Efforts to improve the basic design of a placemat have had limited success. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,746,735 to Snedeker discloses adding a scoop to one side of a conventional substantially planar, foldable, placemat to collect food and the like that would otherwise spill on the floor during use. While the scoop helps collect some debris, these types of designs do little to contain spills arising on the mat itself, entertain the child during meal-time, or prevent the child from pulling up the mat during use.
Accordingly, despite the improvements of the known placemat designs, there remains a need for a cost effective, durable, safe, and washable placemat that remains in place during use, contain spills that arise during meal time, and collects food and other debris before it falls on the floor. In addition to other benefits that will become apparent in the following disclosure, the present invention fulfills these needs.
In one disclosed embodiment, the reusable placemat has a substantially planar eating surface that is encircled by a spill retention rim with a food retention gutter detachably secured thereto. A slip-resistant foot encircles the lower side of the placemat thereby holding it in place on a table during use.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
If desired, the planar eating surface may be substantially transparent, thereby allowing one or more activity cards to be display therethrough to entertain the child during meal time. Packaging material for storing and marketing the placemat can also define at least one activity card. A plurality of activity cards, each having different surface indicia to define a different activity can also be sold separately as a set.
FIG. 1 is a left front isometric view of a reusable placemat in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 1A is a left front isometric view of the placemat of FIG. 1 showing a possible detachment of a removable food collecting gutter.
FIG. 2 is a top plan view of the placemat of FIG. 1.
FIG. 3 is a front plan view of the placemat of FIG. 1.
FIG. 4 is a bottom plan view of the placemat of FIG. 1.
FIG. 5 is a partial, section view of the placemat of FIG. 1 taken along line 5-5 of FIG. 3.
FIG. 6 is a left side view of the placemat of FIG. 1 showing a possible orientation on a table shown in broken lines.
FIG. 7 is a bottom plan view of the placemat of FIG. 1.
FIG. 8 is a right, front isometric view of the placemat of FIG. 1 showing a possible packaging container in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 9 is a right, back isometric view of the placemat and packaging container of FIG. 8.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 10 is a left, front isometric view of the placemat of FIG. 1 showing a possible use of a portion of the packaging container of FIG. 8 as an entertainment panel.
A reusable placemat 20 having a spill retention rim 22, a removable food collecting gutter 24, a slip resistant foot 26, and an activity viewing system 28 is shown in FIGS. 1-10.
Referring to FIGS. 1-5, the placemat 20 preferably has a substantially planar eating surface 30 that is sized to accommodate the eating needs of a user and is surrounded by the raised spill retention rim 22 that preferably has a low profile as shown. The height 31 a, 31 b (FIGS. 5 & 6) of the rim 22 is sized so as to retain within the chamber 32 (FIG. 5) defined by the eating surface 30 within the rim 22 a volume of liquid typically encountered by children when eating.
Preferably, the placemat 20 is substantially rectangular defining an upper edge 40, lower edge 42, left edge 44, right edge 46, top side 50, and bottom side 52, and the removable food collecting gutter 24 is preferably operably secured along the lower edge 42 of the placemat 20 as best shown in FIG. 1. More preferably, the substantially planar eating surface 30 and rim 22 are integrally molded of the same substantially rigid material such as a polycarbonate plastic material or the like. More preferably, the material also includes a fungal-bacterial resistant product such as those sold by the Microban Corporation of New York, N.Y. If desired, a logo platform 60, cup holder (not shown), and/or toy stand (not shown) may also be integrally molded within a portion of the placemat 20. More preferably, and as best shown in FIG. 5, the rim 22 has a recess or groove 70 defined therein that is open along the bottom side 52 of the placemat 20.
Preferably, the slip resistant foot 26 is formed of a flexible, rubber or rubber-like, slip-resistant material that is operably secured to the bottom side 52 of the placemat 20 so that the placemat 20 rests on the foot 26 when placed on a table 80 (FIG. 6) or the like. More preferably, the slip resistant foot 26 is a strip of slip-resistant material that is operably received within the groove 70 on the bottom side 52 of the placemat 20.
The removable food collecting gutter 24 is preferably formed of the same or similar flexible material used to form the slip resistant foot 26. More preferably, the gutter 24 defines a food retention trough 90 that is positioned substantially adjacent to and extends along the entire length of the lower edge 42 of the placemat 20 as best shown in FIG. 1.
One possible structure for detachably securing the gutter 24 to the placemat 20 is best shown in FIG. 5. An arm portion 100 extends substantially horizontally from the gutter 24. The distal end 102 of the arm portion 100 includes a mating nub 104 for operably engaging the groove 70 in the bottom edge of the placemat 20. Accordingly, the gutter 24 can be secured or removed by the placemat simply by wedging the mating nub 104 of the gutter 24 into the groove 70 of the placemat 20 as shown.
Preferably and as shown in FIG. 6, the placemat 20 is positioned on a table 80 so that the gutter 24 extends over the edge 82 of the table 80 to collect food and other debris dropped by the child during meal time. More preferably, the height 31 b of the rim 22 is lower adjacent to the gutter 24 as best shown in FIGS. 5 and 6 so that liquids retained in the chamber 32 will fill spill over the rim 22 adjacent to the gutter 24 and into the food retention trough 90 before spilling outside the placemat 20.
If desired and as best shown in FIG. 10, the placemat 20 can be configured to have an activity viewing system 28 therein. One such system includes selecting the material forming the eating surface 30 so as to allow the eating surface 30 to be substantially transparent. Accordingly, a variety of activity cards 120 each having different surface indicia 122 thereon such as mazes, math problems, word searches and the like can be placed, one at a time, under the placemat 20 within the area defined by the slip-resistant foot 26. Accordingly, a child or parent can select a particular card 120 to display during mealtime, thereby helping entertain the child.
Referring to FIGS. 8-10, the packaging 140 used to market and display the placemat 20 can include at least one such activity card 120. For example, the packaging 140 can be a blank form of card stock that has fold lines 142 positioned so as to define a box-like structure that encircles the placemat 20. Tabs 144 are preferably cut in the stock to as to operably engage mating recesses 146 in the stock as shown, thereby securing the packaging 140 around the placemat 20. A portion of the surface ornamentation 150 on the card stock preferably defines at least one activity card 120. As shown in FIG. 10, perforation lines 160 are provided on the card stock to allow the activity card 120 to be removed along the perforation lines 160. Preferably, a set of additional activity cards 120 are sold separately and are also available for use.
Preferably, all materials forming the placemat 20, spill retention rim 22, slip resistant foot 26, and food collecting gutter 24 are shatter proof and dishwasher safe.
In view of the wide variety of embodiments to which the principles of the invention can be applied, it should be apparent that the detailed embodiments are illustrative only and should not be taken as limiting the scope of the invention. For example, the spill retention rim 22 could be integral with the slip resistant foot 26 by mounting a band of resilient material along the edge of a substantially planar material that defines the eating surface. The upper portion of the resilient material could define the rim 22, while the lower portion of the resilient material defines the foot 26. In such case, the preferred attachment structure between the gutter 24 and placemat 20 could be modified by providing a slot in the resilient material for connecting the arm of the gutter 24. Accordingly, the claimed invention includes all such modifications as may come within the scope of the following claims and equivalents thereto.