Our society is increasingly aware of the value of recycling used items. The concept of recycling old ideas is not as well recognized. Yet there is a wealth of ideas patented more than 20 years ago that are now free to use again. The patents have expired so the ideas, when applied to today’s technologies or in a different industry, can provide unique solutions or improvements to existing products.
For example, let’s say your company develops a medical application that gathers a large amount of data and does some real-time analysis of the information. It might be worthwhile to search through expired patents in the area of database mining. An older algorithm, applied with today’s processing speeds, could be a very compelling solution that avoids the need for R&D to develop something new.
Contemplating a patent search can be overwhelming but there are some good methodologies to isolate the optimal set of patents to review. Some care must also be taken to make sure the IP is truly free to use (i.e. no other patents in the family are still enforceable in one or more countries). Nevertheless, recycling good ideas from the past can be a great short cut in the product development process.
Innovation isn’t always about inventing something new. It can also be taking a great old idea and applying it creatively to newer technologies. Come to think of it, some of the great ideas in my own patents are now no longer protected (apparently, I was a child genius!). So, they are now yours for the recycling. You’re welcome!