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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?
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.