The Whirlpool Corporation of Benton Charter Township, MI, is a company which has become synonymous with the American market for consumer home appliances like dishwashers, refrigerators or laundry machines. The company announced a 9.6 percent drop in sales outside of the United States during the second quarter of 2014, reducing the corporation’s sales forecast for the entire year. However, Whirlpool may be trying to counteract its poor global sales by acquiring the Indesit Company, an Italy-based manufacturer and distributor of home appliances. Whirlpool is still at the forefront of innovation in the field of home appliances, which its recent unveiling of an in-home 10-minute dry cleaning appliance proves. Recently, the corporation has partnered with researchers from Purdue University to convert a 1920s Indiana home into a net-zero energy residence, creating as much energy as it consumes within a year.
Whirlpool’s devoted focus to household appliances of many kinds makes it a very visible corporation among American consumers and a good choice for IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series.
Publication of a patent application does not mean that a patent will be issued for the technology, but looking through them, we have our best chances of learning about a company’s most recent research and development goals. To judge from what we saw today, Whirlpool is very hard at work creating improvements to the various ice making assemblies manufactured for the company’s refrigerators or other appliances. We were also intrigued by one patent application which may protect a cooking method for a home oven that provides for the steam cooking of fish and vegetables.
A company’s patent portfolio expresses that entity’s true strength in intellectual properties, and some novel additions have been made to Whirlpool’s holdings in recent weeks. We’ve shared a couple of recently issued patents below which protect improved dishwasher assemblies, including one which can aid a dishwasher’s spray arm when an object is blocking its normal operating path. Another patent protects a removable beverage rack for a refrigerator that can store a variety of bottled or canned drinks in many configurations. We also noticed a couple of patented inventions related to communication networks for home appliances.
Whirlpool’s Patent Applications: From Spherical Ice Dispensers to Steam Cooking Ovens
The Whirlpool Corporation maintains a strict focus on the development and manufacture of home appliances that many other companies fail to match. This company owns a multitude of brands that produce a diverse range of dishwashers, refrigerators and more, such as Maytag, Amana, KitchenAid and Jenn-Air along with the corporation’s flagship Whirlpool products. The patent applications assigned to this entity which have been published recently by the USPTO represent some truly unique advancements that may pique the interests of our readers.
One area of research and development which jumped out at us during our latest scan of Whirlpool’s filed patent applications was ice making apparati; plenty of filings discussed technologies directed at these devices. For example, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140165600, which is titled Clear Ice Maker and Method for Forming Clear Ice, discusses an ice maker assembly designed to produce ice without air bubbles or other impurities. The ice maker assembly includes a mechanical oscillating mechanism which is meant to provide a rocking motion to the ice tray to create ice which doesn’t contain air bubbles, which can affect the taste of any food or beverage using that ice. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140165619, filed under the title Clear Ice Spheres, would protect a method of making spherically-shaped clear ice structures using a mold apparatus. This technology would allow an ice dispenser to produce ice in a round shape rather than the traditional ice cube with which we’re familiar. Another ice-making invention is explained within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140202181, simply titled Ice Maker. This technology relates to a stand-alone ice making apparatus and a method for creating ice more consistently from water supplies, creating less waste water that must be drained away. This system provides better control of the flow rate of water fed into an ice making system to keep excess water away from electronic components or from leaking onto the ground.
New refrigerator technologies have also been a recent focus of Whirlpool, to judge from a couple of other patent applications which caught our eyes today. The food-destroying form of frozen spoil that we commonly refer to as “freezer burn” may be dealt a pretty big blow by the invention which would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140174100, which is titled Refrigerator with No-Frost Freezer. This patent application discloses a freezer compartment contained within a refrigerator appliance which provides a defrost cycle at regular intervals through the use of a thermoelectric device. This defrost cycle is meant to reduce food discolorations due to freezer burn while preventing other issues from occurring in food stored near the freezer’s evaporator, where temperature changes caused by defrost cycles can be most severe. We also noticed an improved method for configuring the electrical wiring and components of a refrigerator, discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140167591, titled Method and Apparatus for Routing Utilities in a Refrigerator. The patent application is directed at a grommet designed to guide wiring at a 180° angle to direct electrical wiring safely around the sharp edges of the refrigerator’s liner. This grommet could also be used to guide water lines which provide utilities to ice makers and water dispensers included within the refrigerator.
Novel appliances for the cooking of food which have been developed by Whirlpool have also been disclosed to the public recently through USPTO patent applications. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140205727, filed under the title Method for Cooking Food Using Steam, would protect a steam cooking method that can be implemented by an automated home oven. The cooking method includes a dry pre-heating step, a steam pre-heating step and then a cooking step designed for the better cooking of fish and vegetables. Finally, we noticed an intriguing adjustable tool for a food processing device which is described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140203123, titled Multifunctional Food Processing Tool for Use with a Food Processing Device. The tool can switch from a chopping operation to a stirring operation using blades which can be articulated between horizontal and vertical positions. Changes in the blades position can take place while a food processing operation is occurring.
Issued Patents of Note: Dishwashers, Microwave Shields and Appliance Communication Networks
Whirlpool may not take a place on the Top 50 list of 2013 U.S. patent grant recipients which we’ve referenced often here in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series. However, the broad scope of development into fields that seek to improve various aspects and chores involved in the average consumer’s daily life, including eating and cleaning. From dishwashers to laundry machines to microwaves, Whirlpool is busy adding dozens of patents to its portfolio which protect inventions in a wide field of home appliances.
Methods of quickly diverting heat-generating energy to the proper washing tub within a dishwasher assembly have recently been protected for Whirlpool through U.S. Patent No. 8734595, issued under the title Rapid Heat System for a Multi-Tub Dishwasher. The dishwasher protected by this patent contains at least two washing tubs, each with an individual heating unit which are operable at multiple heating levels and can be operated at select times during a washing operation. Methods of completing washing operations despite the presence of an obstacle blocking the path of dishwashing components are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8734594, entitled Obstacle Sensing Spray Arm for a Dishwashing Machine. This patent protects a dishwasher with a rotatable spray arm that can identify a blockage in its path and adjust its spray pattern for optimal washing despite the blockage.
Other patents recently issued to Whirlpool reflect a range of home appliance development and innovation that may benefit homemakers here in America and around the world in upcoming months. An improved motor design for a blower assembly in a laundry machine has been protected for Whirlpool through U.S. Patent No. 8776394, which is titled Blower for a Laundry Treating Appliance. The blower assembly protected by this patent results in a reduction in the pulsating motion experienced by a motor, which creates much of the sound that occurs while a laundry treating appliance operates. Improved designs for microwaves meant to prevent radiation from leaking away from these appliances during use are discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8772686, entitled Shielding Systems for Microwave Ovens and Microwave Oven Using this Shielding System. This shielding system utilizes multiple layers of comb-shaped parallel grounded conductors which can be manufactured at low costs and prevents radiation leakage through the transparent door of the microwave. We were also piqued by the removable drink rack for refrigerators which has been created by Whirlpool and protected with U.S. Patent No. 8746818, issued under the title Beverage Storage Rack. This storage rack design can accommodate both bottles and cans of varying sizes simultaneously through the use of angled support and peripheral frame members which can be configured for a wide range of drink containers.
Interestingly, we were able to find a couple of recently issued patents related to communication networks involving home appliances connected to a central server or networks outside of the home. A user interface for the remote control of multiple appliances operating throughout a home environment has been protected for this company through U.S. Patent No. 8786412, titled Appliance Network for a Networked Appliance and a Remote User Interface. This remote user interface control can interact with appliances connected to the system’s software architecture for monitoring appliance activity or to send a command for changing a cycle of operation across an appliance network. Systems of transmitting digital services to consumers through various home appliances have also been protected by Whirlpool, as can be seen in U.S. Patent No. 8745203, entitled Mechanical Proximity Sensor Enabled eService Connector System. These eServices, which can include illumination, thermal or acoustic services, are available through many forms of host devices, which can include ovens, dishwashers, laundry machines or other small appliances. The system seems designed so that, like the invention discussed just prior to this one, users can interact with appliances through the use of a remote control device, such as a laptop or a cell phone.