This application claims benefit of the 21 Jun. 2011 filing date of U.S. provisional patent application No. 61/499,179, which is incorporated by reference herein.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
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This invention relates generally to water cooler covers and more specifically to a water cooler cover having adjustable and customizable openings in the various surfaces of the water cooler cover.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
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Water coolers are used in both commercial and residential settings for providing instant filtered hot or cold water. Water coolers typically include an upright base and conventional electric refrigeration and heating systems. The water cooler further comprises a reservoir to receive the mouth of an inverted, three or five gallon water bottle, and a network of outlet pipes and valves that control dispensing of water from the water cooler. The water is heated or cooled, and thus either hot or cold water may be dispensed as preferred by a user.
Water coolers are often seen as eyesores due to their large, bulky and unaesthetic appearance. They are not customizable (as to size, shape, color, finish, etc.) and cannot be modified to blend with a particular style or motif of the setting in which they are placed (home, office, etc.).
Covers for water cooler bottles are known, but they cover only the water bottle. A standard water cooler cover includes at least three adjoining side panels surrounding a space for receiving a water cooler and its associated water bottle. At least one of the panels, typically the front panel, defines a hole through which the functional controls of the water cooler can be accessed and operated and through which water is dispensed.
However, the prior art water cooler covers are available only in a “one size fits all” configuration. The present invention addresses the disadvantages associated with these standard prior art water cooler covers. One disadvantage is that water cooler covers are of a standard shape and size. But water coolers are made in different sizes, with different dimensions and with different locations and configurations for the controls and dispensing outlet. A standard water cooler cover cannot fit all water coolers and as a result, certain water cooler controls are often inaccessible when using such a standard cover.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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The invention is explained in the following description in view of the drawings that show:
FIGS. 1 through 4 illustrate four different views depicting the adjustable features of the present invention.
FIG. 5 illustrates channel for receiving slats forming portions of a front surface of the water cooler cover of the present invention.
FIGS. 6 and 7 illustrate a first retaining mechanism for retaining the slats of the present invention against vertical movement.
FIG. 8 illustrates an alternative slat for use with the water cooler cover of the present invention.
FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the water cooler cover.
FIG. 10 illustrates alternative slats for use with the water cooler cover of the present invention.
FIGS. 11 and 12 illustrate second and third retaining mechanism for retaining the slats of the present invention against vertical movement.
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OF THE INVENTION
Before describing in detail the particular method and apparatus related to a water cooler cover, it should be observed that the present invention resides primarily in a novel and non-obvious combination of elements and process steps. So as not to obscure the disclosure with details that will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art, certain conventional elements and steps have been presented with lesser detail, while the drawings and the specification describe in greater detail other elements and steps pertinent to understanding the invention. The described embodiments are not intended to define limits as to the structure or method of the invention, but only to provide exemplary constructions. The embodiments are permissive rather than mandatory and illustrative rather than exhaustive.
The inventors have solved the problems of the prior art with a water cooler cover that covers the water cooler and the water bottle (with the exception of the water cooler back and bottom surfaces). A front panel of the water cooler cover defines adjustable/movable openings through which the user can access the cooler controls and the dispensing outlet. The front panel is formed with movable and removable horizontal slats, allowing the openings to be relocated and/or resized by simply moving the slats up or down and adding/deleting slats. The user can thus adjust the size and location of the openings to align them with the controls and the dispensing outlet. In effect, the front panel and the openings defined therein are adjustable.
The adjustable water cooler cover further comprises two side panels, i.e., a left and a right side panel, a front panel and a top panel. The left and right side panels each attach to an edge of the front panel. The side panels may be attached to the front panel edges with hinges, bolts, an adhesive or other attachment devices. The top panel is likewise secured to top edges of the front and the side panels.
The front panel includes a top edge, a bottom edge, a right edge, a left edge, a front surface and a rear surface. Right and left vertically positioned channels are affixed to the rear surface of the front panel extending approximately from the top of the front panel to the bottom of the front panel.
Vertically moveable horizontal slats are disposed within the right and left channels and thus span the interval between the left and right channels. That is, the left edge (when viewing the front panel of the water cooler cover from the outside the cooler cover) of each slat is disposed within the left vertical channel and the right edge of each slat is disposed within the right vertical channel. The front panel is thereby formed by these slats; several slats are stacked vertically in close proximity to create a nearly solid surfaces of the front panel.
Openings in the front panel can be moved and resized by simply relocating the slats, i.e., moving one or more slats up or down to form and relocate the front panel openings. Also, more or fewer slats can be positioned between the channels to create any number of openings. In various embodiments the slats are between about 1 inch and 3 inches wide.
FIG. 1 illustrates an exterior front view of a water cooler cover 10 having a front panel 12 but without slats, i.e., the front panel is open. The open region within the front panel 12 is identified by a reference numeral 13. In one embodiment the water cooler cover 10 comprises a right and left vertical trim piece 14 and 16 along each vertical edge of the front panel 12 to obscure a joint between the front panel 12 and the left and right side panels (the left and right side panels are not shown in FIG. 1). The trim piece may not be present in certain embodiments. The water cooler cover 10 further comprises a top panel 18.
The water cooler cover may further comprise feet 20 at each corner along a bottom surface of the water cooler cover 10. Casters (not shown) for ease in moving the water cooler cover 10 may be used in lieu of the feet 20.
FIG. 2 illustrates an interior view of a rear surface of the front panel 12. This view illustrates respective left and right U-shaped channels 30 and 32 (i.e., viewing the channels from the rear) each for receiving an edge of a slat (slats not shown in FIG. 2). The channels 30 and 32 are attached to the rear surface of the front panel 12 with screws or other attachment devices.
FIG. 3 illustrates a front exterior view of the water cooler cover 10 covering a water bottle 38. Exemplary 1 inch and 3 inch slats 39 are positioned to form an upper access opening 40 to allow access to water cooler controls 44 and a lower access opening 46 to allow access to a water dispensing outlet 48. Of course, with a different water cooler configuration the location of the controls and dispensing outlet may be different thus necessitating placement of the access openings in different locations. Advantageously, according to the present invention the openings (e.g., the lower opening 46 and the upper opening 40) in the front panel 12 can be relocated and/or resized to accommodate any configuration of water cooler controls and outlets by utilizing differently-sized slats and moving the slats vertically upwardly or downwardly to form access openings in different locations.
The openings 40 and 46 can be relocated and/or resized by simply repositioning the 1 inch and/or 3 inch slats (and associated slat locking mechanisms described below) and/or by using differently sized slats. Also top and bottom edges of the slats can be straight, beveled, rounded or curved.
The slats can be formed of various materials, including wood, plastic, metal, glass, rubber or another similar material.
In FIG. 3 the end regions of the slats 39 are shown in phantom as extending into the channels 30 and 32, which are also shown in phantom. Locking mechanisms 60 that prevent downwardly vertical movement of the slats due to gravitational forces, are also shown in phantom as they are not visible from the exterior of the water cooler cover. The locking mechanisms 60 are described in detail below in conjunction with FIGS. 6 and 7.
FIG. 3 also illustrates a stationary stop element 64 disposed below the bottom-most slat 39. The stop element 64 is typically affixed to an inside surface of the front panel 12 and thus shown in phantom in this exterior view. The stop element 64 retains the lower-most slat 39 and all slats 39 above the lower-most slat 39 against vertical downward movement.
FIG. 4 illustrates a different slat configuration than the embodiment of FIG. 3, thereby forming openings in different locations, i.e., an upper opening 70 and a lower opening 76. To simplify FIG. 4, the phantom elements are not depicted in FIG. 4.
In both the FIGS. 3 and 4 configurations a top-loading water bottle (for example the water bottle 38) is placed above the water cooler controls 44, which are accessible through the top opening 40/70. The dispensing outlet 48 is accessible through the larger bottom opening 46/76. With the openings properly located, the water bottle 38 is not visible through either of the openings. However, a user can arrange the openings to check a water level in the water bottle 38 if desired.
To place each slat 39 in contact with a rear surface of the front panel 12 (and thus prevent one from seeing into the interior of the water cooler cover 10) the channels 30 and 32 are substantially U-shaped with one leg of each channel received in a respective groove 80 defined in a rear surface 12A of the front panel 12. See a close-up view of FIG. 5, which illustrates only the channel 32 on the left side of the front panel 12, with a corresponding parallel channel and groove on the right side of the front panel 12. When the slats 39 are placed within the channels 30 and 32, a front surface of the slat 39 is in contact with the rear surface 12A to prevent one from seeing into the interior of the water cooler cover 10. The depth of each groove 80 depends on the thickness of a channel leg. In one embodiment the grooves are about ⅛ inch deep to accommodate a channel leg about ⅛ thick.
Generally, a slat forming a top border of an opening is secured at the right and left channels to prevent slats above the top-most slat from falling vertically. FIGS. 6 and 7 illustrate exemplary locking mechanisms for each of the right and left channels 30 and 32. The locking mechanism 40 (shown generally in FIG. 3) is removably secured to each of the right and left channels 30 and 32, with an element of the locking mechanism disposed within an open region between rear channel legs 30A/30B and front channel legs 32A/32B. The locking mechanism 44, which comprises a clamp, lock, binder clip, window lock, thumb screw or other clamping yet removable element, prevents the top-most slat 39 (and all above slats) from falling downwardly within the channel 30/32.
In the FIG. 6 embodiment, a thumbscrew 88 of the locking mechanism 44 passes through a rear leg 90 and is tightened against the rear-facing leg 30B/32B of the channel 30/32. The arrangement holds the locking mechanism in place at the desired vertical location along the channel 30/32.
FIG. 7 illustrates a different embodiment of the locking mechanism. As in the FIG. 6 embodiment, the locking mechanism is substantially U-shaped and further comprises center members 92 movable in a direction represented by an arrowhead 95. The center members 92 and the thumbscrews 88 are urged against the rear-facing legs 30B/32B of the channel 30/32 and as each of the thumbscrews 88 is tightened, the respective center member 92 moves in a forward or frontward direction within a horizontal groove (not shown) defined in the locking mechanism. Thus tightening the thumbscrews 88 urges the locking mechanism, specifically the center members 92, against the rear channel legs 30B/32B, holding slats above the locking mechanism against vertical movement. The center members 92 preferably each comprise a deformable material, such as rubber, that expands against the rear-facing leg 30B/32B of the channel 30/32 as the thumbscrews 88 are tightened.
The number of slats 39 within the front panel 12 can be increased or decreased to form one, two, or three (or more) openings or access holes, as needed for a specific water cooler. The location and size of the openings can be adjusted to fit any water cooler configuration. Also, if no openings are required in the front panel, the user can completely fill the front panel 12 with slats 39.
The absence of a bottom panel and a back panel for the water cooler cover 10 allows the user to slide the cover 10 away from the water cooler for service, bottle exchange and to view the water level in the water bottle.
Bottom-loading water cooler design with the bottle resting on the floor and the water pumped to a higher reservoir within the water cooler are also known. The present invention can accommodate this water cooler design using a slat arrangement including additional slats at the bottom to hide the water cooler and openings formed as desired to access the controls and dispensing outlet.
FIG. 8 illustrates an alternative slat 100 defining an oval-shaped opening 102. Use of slat 100 with the opening 102 may obviate the requirement for forming an opening(s) between the slats 39 of the other embodiments.
FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the water cooler cover 10 with the water bottle within the water cooler cover and not shown. The controls (not shown) are accessible through the top opening 40 and the dispensing outlet (not shown) through the bottom opening 46. A user can check the water level by viewing the water bottle through the open rear area. A left side panel 110 is also illustrated in FIG. 9.
According to another embodiment illustrated in FIG. 10, two slats 130 and 132 each comprise respective upper 130A and lower 132A regions of an oval opening, such that when the slats 130 and 132 are placed in contact, a single oval opening is formed. The slats 130 and 132 can also be used as a top and/or bottom border for a larger opening such as the openings described elsewhere herein.
FIG. 11 illustrates a channel 150 defining a plurality of aligned holes 154 in both channel legs 150A and 150B. A pin 158 is positioned through selected ones of the holes 154 at a selected height to prevent downwardly vertical movement of a slat 160. The pin 158 is illustrated as having two legs 158A and 158B although one leg can suffice.
FIG. 12 illustrates a channel 160 comprising a ferrous material and magnets 162 positioned at a selected height on inside surfaces of the channel 160 to prevent downwardly vertical movement of a slat 164.
In the various embodiments of the invention, the slat height can range from about ½ inch to 5 inches. In one embodiment, the slats measure approximately 11 inches long, i.e., approximately equal to a distance between the vertical channels 30 and 32. The configuration of the slats 39 on the front panel can be adjusted to form an opening having a location that can be changed by raising and/or lowering one or more slats within the vertical channels 30 and 32. The location of the slats 39 (and thus the location of the opening) is determined by the user as desired.
Although the present invention has been described with reference to a water cooler, the teachings of the invention are also applicable to other reservoirs containing a liquid or a gas. These reservoirs may hold a fluid that is maintained at a temperature above or below ambient or at ambient temperature. These other reservoirs may have controls and outlets for discharging the fluid at different locations. According to the present invention openings in the reservoir cover may be configured as required to access the controls and outlets.
While various embodiments of the present invention have been shown and described herein, it will be obvious that such embodiments are provided by way of example only. Numerous variations, changes and substitutions may be made without departing from the invention herein. Accordingly, it is intended that the invention be limited only by the spirit and scope of the appended claims.