Patent application title: EXPLANDABLE SHOE TREE FOR SOFT SHOES
Joseph B. Ottenstein (Rockville, MD, US)
IPC8 Class: AA43D314FI
Class name: Tools interiorly stretching assembled shoes variable expander
Publication date: 2012-08-02
Patent application number: 20120192365
An expandable shoetree for athletic shoes is provided of one-piece
construction. It may be inflatable, hinged to provide for expansion by
unfolding, or mechanically expanded. When fully expanded, the shoetree
maintains the shoe in its intended and original shape. The layer that
comes in contact with the inner layer of the may be comprised of fabric
which may comprise sixty-three percent (63%) Nylon, twenty-three percent
(23%) Polyester, and fourteen percent (14%) Elastane. The outer layer, or
a booty which goes over it, is preferably imbued with an odor destroying
agent or fragrance and anti-microbial agents, to provide an attractive
fragrance for the shoe and suppresses the development of unpleasant
1. A shoetree of one-piece construction adapted to be inserted within the
body of a sneaker and following insertion, expandable to urge said
sneaker into a shape and configuration consistent with its original
appearance as new, wherein said shoetree is further reduced form its
expanded size in advance of withdrawing it from said shoe to permit
wearing of the shoe.
2. The shoetree of claim 1, wherein said shoetree is comprised of an outer layer which comes in contact with the interior of said shoe when it is fully expanded, wherein said outer layer is a fabric comprised of sixty-three percent (63%) Nylon, twenty-three percent (23%) Polyester, and fourteen percent (15%) Elastane.
3. The shoetree of claim 2, wherein said shoetree is provided with a disposable booty in which said shoetree is placed prior to expansion such that, upon expansion, said booty is pressed against the interior of said shoe, and wherein said booty is comprised of an absorbent fabric so as to absorb liquids present on said shoe.
4. The shoetree of claim 2, wherein said fabric further comprises at least one of an anti-microbial agent, an odor neutralizing agent and a fragrance.
5. The shoetree of claim 3, wherein said absorbent fabric of said booty comprises at least one of an anti-microbial agent, an odor neutralizing agent and a fragrance.
PRIORITY DATA AND INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE
 This application claims benefit of priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 61/436,225 filed Jan. 26, 2011 which is incorporated by reference in its entirety.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 1. Field of the Invention
 This invention pertains to shoe trees--or similar form and function preserving devices, designed for use in connection with athletic shoes. Although there is no single definition that covers all athletic shoes, those of skill in this art will recognize such shoes as primarily intended for active wear, or casual appearance. Typically made of soft fabric rather than leather or hard "uppers" and a flexible rubber or rubber-like sole that can bend with the foot, athletic shoes, "sneakers" have developed into a vast business with many different terms and descriptives. This invention provides for shoe trees that fit all forms and shapes of athletic shoes, and includes forms for all manner of athletic shoes, including trainers, sandshoes, gym boots, joggers, running shoes, gutties, sneakers, tennis shoes, high tops, gym shoes, sport shoes, sneaks, tackies and rubber shoes.
 2. Background of the Invention
 The business of athletic shoes, and athletic shoe collection and trading, has exploded since the 1985 introduction of Air Jordans® by Nike. Frequently, an athletic shoe is subjected to a variety of forces and hard edges, due to the circumstances of its use. It is put in canvas bags that offer little protection from overlying weights and articles, it is frequently left for hours after being used under conditions where a large amount of sweat is deposited on the shoe, and can be bent or the material creased accidentally, as these shoes lack the stiffness and rigidity of common "street shoes." Paradoxically, the price paid for athletic shoes, and collections of athletic shoes, jumps dramatically over time, with fees many times over the price of a new pair being paid for athletic shoes off the market but in prime condition. With prices for used or retired athletic shoes reaching many multiples of their price "as new" and even thousands of dollars for complete collections of a given line, it becomes imperative to provide a device that will preserve the shape, appearance and integrity of the shoe long beyond the short term of use contemplated.
 Yet, currently available shoe trees tend to be rigid, limited devices that conform the shoe to the shape impressed, rather than the other way around. Typical shoe trees provide for shaping only of the toe, or of the heel and toe. An athletic shoe framed by such a device will deform out of shape, due to the soft nature of the upper and the flexible nature of the sole. Moreover, such devices, even if made of an aromatic wood or absorbent material, because they are not in contact with much of the shoe, fail to provide the kind of "mint conditioning" required to maintain full value for athletic shoes. They also tend to be difficult and awkward to transport--being non-compressible and rigid. An example of such a shoe tree specifically adapted to providing support for "high top" sneakers is featured in U.S. Pat. No. 5,487,198. Although made in two pieces, it is unwieldy and has snap lock features that detract from the need to provide an soft, easy on easy off device.
 U.S. Patent Publication 2006/0005328, Van Johnson, is directed to a complex inflatable shoe tree that requires the provision of multiple chambers to provide a sufficiently rigid shoe tree. While addressing a significant need in the industry, the shoe tree of this patent publication, incorporated herein-by-reference, is difficult to construct and awkward to use. In part because of the nature of their use, athletic shoes being frequently donned and removed not in the wearer's home, but in a gym or in the field, a successful shoe tree must be easily compressed and used. Other designs are known, such as that featured in Design Pat. No. D624,857 S, but this rigid device is not adaptable for the wide variety of shapes and character of soft shoes or sneakers.
 The colleting of sneaker's is a sub-culture that has been growing in the United States over the past twenty (20) years. It began with the original Air Jordan® Nike shoes that debuted in 1985. These shoes have led to a product line that has continued to grow and become an enormous revenue driver for Nike, which now has a Jordan brand within the company. Certain pairs of limited edition Air Jordan's® sell in upwards of five to six thousand dollars (U.S.). It is a niche market that has been carved out by sneaker enthusiasts who drive the industry. Eighty percent (80%) of Nike's customer base buys their shoes for fashion, not athletic performance. New York City has become a hotspot for sneaker collectors with sneaker boutiques popping up throughout the city. Consumers travel to these stores to not only buy new sneakers, but also bring along pairs that they currently own to try and make some money from them. A major part of the industry is comprised of people selling off their old sneakers that they have been collecting. The value of some pairs of sneakers increases by over one-hundred fifty percent (150%). There are also several on-line sneaker forums such as sneakerhead.com and sneakerfreaker.com, which provide on-line market places where people can buy and sell sneakers across the globe. Quality of sneakers is a very important part in the pricing structure for the market and this is where the invention disclosed herein, referred to as KickFresh®, will provide value to its customers.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The inventive shoetree differs from the prior art in one essential respect--it is a single piece device that fits within the shoe--it is "equivalent" in shape but smaller in at least one dimension, and then once in place, it is expanded. The expandable shoetree locks when fully expanded, held against the interior of the shoe and the force expanding the shoe, which may be air pressure, or mechanical pressure. By providing an easily inserted, easily removed, one-piece device, the user is encouraged to preserve the shape and condition of the shoe, while using the shoe as desired. In certain preferred embodiments, the surface of the shoetree in contact with the shoe itself is made of a preferred composition designed to improve and maintain the appearance of the shoe.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIG. 1 provided is a schematic representation of the inventive shoetree wherein it is intended to be expanded by being inflatable. The shoetree as illustrated in FIG. 1 is smaller than the shoe it is designed to support.
 FIGS. 2-5 illustrate an alternate embodiment of the expandable shoe tree of this invention, where the major shape maintaining elements of the invention are in a hinged relationship. FIG. 2 is a top view of the shoetree of this embodiment showing adjacent left and right toe elements.
 FIG. 3 is side view of the shoetree of the invention showing the major shape retaining elements of the shoetree of the invention in an up/down relationship, having been turned around the axis point from side-by-side.
 FIG. 4 is a top view of the shoetree of the invention where the major shape elements have been separated to occupy a greater area and thereby support a broader shoe.
 FIG. 5 is a side view of the shoetree of the invention where the major shape elements have been separated to occupy a greater area and thereby support a deeper shoe.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
 The invention resides in a one-piece expandable shoetree to be inserted in the athletic shoe and then expanded to maintain the shoe's full structure when not in use. This and the total space occupied by the shoetree may be increased, once easily inserted in the shoe, by any of a variety of methods. In one preferred embodiment, as shown in FIG. 1, the shoe tree is equivalent to the shape of the shoe it is intended to support, but smaller--in a one-piece device it is provide with an expandable bladder and fabric, which can be conveniently expanded to the full shape of the shoe, and once expanded, is retained by the shoe itself
 In an alternate embodiment, the shoe tree is of one-piece construction, but the shoe tree is comprised of two (2) pieces movable with respect to each other by the provision of screws or similar inclined planes that are adjusted by an allen wrench or similar device which access the shoe from outside of the shoe. Turning the wrench in one direction causes the two sections of the shoe to move apart, one from the other, on rigid rods that run from one-piece to the other. When the shoetree has been sufficiently expanded (but not beyond "stops" provided on the rods that prevent complete separation of the two pieces) removing the wrench from its interior socket "locks" the shoetree in place, until it is time to release it for wearing the shoe. The allen wrench is conveniently attached to the shoetree by a chain so that it is handy, much like the chuck on a drill may be attached to the body of the drill.
 In yet another embodiment of the inventive shoetree, the shoetree is hinged to collapse on itself into a teardrop shape with flanges that may be folded out and extend out at an angle both up and down. As shown in FIGS. 2-5, the major shape pieces 110 and 120 are moved by pressing or moving flanges or handles 130 and 140 about pivot point 150. The flanges, fully extended, compress the shape elements together, providing support for the toe area of the shoe, while the handles fit into and are retained by the heal of the shoe. For a shoe of greater size, the handles may be brought towards each other, forcing the shape elements 110 and 120 apart, for a broader shoe. By the same token, the shape elements may be rotated about pivot point 150 by moving handle 140 about 130, putting the shape elements into an "above and below" arrangement--again, the handles canb be moved down to separate the shape elements for a deeper shoe, and lifted to present a narrow head. By thus providing for expandability, the shoetree futs easlily into the shoe, and will retain the shape of the shoe until it is to be worn. The flanges may be on resilient means such as springs and the like, so that the flanges positively engage the fabric of the shoe, and keep it expanded.
 Importantly, the shoe tree is preferably a bilayer product. The core may be solid, or in an inflatable mode, may have an inner layer of soft, elastic synthetic rubber, to prevent air leakage. The outer layer is preferably a fabric layer consisting of sixty-three percent (63%) Nylon, twenty-three percent (23%) Polyester, and fourteen percent (14%) Elastane. This provides a relatively durable and rugged product that is easily inflated or expanded mechanically, but will not deform the athletic shoe from its intended shape. The outer layer is preferably provided with both an aromatic fragrance material, such as powdered fragrance granules, to mask the odor of the shoe developed while in use, and/or an anti-microbiological agent to inhibit bacterial formation that most often lends itself to the formation of unpleasant odors.
 If expandable by inflation, rather than the allen wrench or by application of force to hinges, the shoetree has an attached bulb and valve, similar to a blood pressure cuff, to manually inflate the shoetree in just a few short pumps (see, FIG. 1).
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF AN EMBODIMENT
 As noted above, the characteristic feature of the inventive shoetree is that it is of one-piece construction, but whether through inflation or unhinging or mechanical expansion, it increases in total volume to supportively hold the shoe in its desired and intended shape. Various alternatives will occur to those of skill in the art without the exercise of inventive faculty. Applicant has elected to further describe the shoetree of this patent application by reference to the inflatable alternative of FIG. 1, but the description is generally adaptable to other alternatives.
 In the preferred inflatable construction, the KickFresh® shoetree is a one-piece construction of two layers. The inner layer is an air tight inflatable "bag" preferably made out of synthetic rubber, but can alternatively be made of any durable flexible non-porous material, such as polyvinyl chloride, high density polyethylene, and similar materials. The principal characteristics of the inner layer are that it be non-porous to suppress air leaks, and durable, so that no rips or tears are easily caused. Such materials are easily cast or extruded using current technology that is not further discussed herein and does not constitute an inventive aspect of the invention.
 The KickFresh® is a bilayer article. The exterior layer is designed to provide a good friction fit with the interior of the athletic shoe it is inflated within, to keep the KickFresh® from rotating or moving within the shoe once inflated. In a preferred embodiment employing inflation to expand the shoetree once inserted, the exterior layer serves as a containment vessel as well, provided to contain the soft inner layer from expansion beyond its intended shape. A cloth of sixty-three percent (63%) Nylon, twenty-three percent (23%) Polyester, and fourteen percent (14%) Elastane provides an excellent fabric exterior with both bulk and friction fit without excess weight or rigidity. Other fabrics, including conventional woven products such as cotton, wool and other natural materials may be used.
 Non-natural materials are preferred in part because they may be prepared from vat materials in which anti-microbial agents can be directly incorporated. In the alternative, where skin allergies or other performance criteria require the use of natural fibers, after production or after creation products, such as SurfacAide® and FabricAide® available from Coating Specialists, LLC of Auburn, Mich. and similar alternatives can be employed. Any of a large variety of antibiotics can be used, to suppress the formation of long lasting odors.
 In addition, the outer fabric layer may be provided with a "booty" or similar fabric covering in which it is inserted after partial inflation, and then placed in the shoe for complete inflation. This third layer, or outer covering is disposable, and is removed from the shoe after a sufficient residence time to "wick" from the interior of the shoe substantially all the moisture remaining, both due to sweat from the wearer and potential adverse conditions such as rain and snow. Clearly, the outer fabric layer of the KickFresh® and the booty provided to go over it may be provided in any of a variety of colors and images intended to mimic or support the original shoe, as the KickFresh® and typically disposable booty are of sufficiently low expense that once the shoe is no longer being worn, they may be left in the shoe to improve display of the same, and avoid the introduction of inadvertent creases or marks when the shoe sits on the shelf or is collapsed under a superior weight.
 As noted, to be useful, the KickFresh® is made of one-piece, and easily inflatable, as with a hand pump similar to that which is used to inflate a blood pressure cuff No high pressure is required. Alternative means of inflation, including a tube from the inflation port to the user's mouth permitting the user to inflate the shoe directly by blowing into the tube, and low but positive pressure canisters (Air Jordan® Air, for instance) are similarly contemplated. The inflation port is provided with a one-way valve, which is equipped with a plug which is used to seal the port once inflation is complete, in the same fashion as an inflatable water toy. For removal, the KickFresh® is deflated by depressing the flap on the one-way valve until sufficient deflation has occurred to extract the KickFresh®.
 In a more expensive alternative, the device may be sold as a fully inflated shoetree, with an opposite direction port, which permits expansion of the device by an influx of air. The device is reduced in volume by pressure applied, and then inserted in the shoe. The device is made of a more highly elastomeric fabric, preferably reinforced with high modulus fibers or threads, which tend to urge the KickFresh® back to its original shape, which is constrained by the shoe it is placed in or the exterior fabric when out of the shoe. As the one-way port in this case permits the inflow of ambient air at normal pressure, fewer difficulties are encountered in inserting the KickFresh® in a difficult or complex shape, such as a high top sneaker. While more expensive because of the materials employed to urge the KickFresh® to its original shoe-imitative shape, this alternative provides an excellent long term storage and show product, as it does not suffer from deflation, and maintains the shoe in shape over long periods of non-use and storage.
 While the present invention has been disclosed both generically, and with reference to specific alternatives, those alternatives are not intended to be limiting unless reflected in the claims set forth below. The invention is limited only by the provisions of the claims, and their equivalents, as would be recognized by one of skill in the art to which this application is directed.