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Inventions: The Next Generation

Can't think of an original product? You don't have to. Making an existing product better could be your ticket to success.

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This story appears in the September 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Almost every good idea evolves over time. Take the airplane. It started as a one-man, open-air flying machine. But gradually changes occurred, making it better and more complex in form. Not surprisingly, thousands of patents have been granted on airplane improvements. And airplanes aren't the only invention to benefit from improvements made over time: According to Mark Gilbreth, a patent attorney at Gilbreth and Strozier in Houston, more than 90 percent of all patents granted today are improvement patents. So if you improve an existing product, it's very possible to receive a patent on that improvement. However, before you file your patent application, here's some important information you should know.

Passing the Tests

To receive an improvement patent, your idea must pass four tests:

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