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Is it possible to patent a similar idea that already exists?

I have an idea that I performed a patent search on and found that somebody has already had a similar idea patented. This idea I found was patented back in 1970s. My idea is more up to date but is still the same principle. Would it be possible to still try and attempt to patent my idea? How long do patents usually last?
Brad Sugars answered June 19, 2007
To answer your questions simply, yes, as long as you can prove it's different enough.

That said, it would be best if you think the idea has a lot of commercial merit to speak directly with a patent attorney and get a thought on whether your idea is different enough.

Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.