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My grandfather created a mobile self-storage business in San Diego in the early 80s. Although the concept is very big now (like Door-to-Door), at the time he had not heard of anyone else doing something similar.

He was told there was no way to patent the idea, so he never tried. I would have thought he could file a utility patent on the process of moving a fully loaded storage room (trucks, cranes, trailers, weight distribution, loading ramps, and every other piece he worked out) and effectively had rights to the idea.

Assuming I'm right, is there any recourse 30 years later on the missed patent opportunity?

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Thirty years later - absolutely none. Given the lifetime of a patent is ~20 years, it would have expired by now, in any case.

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In the more general case where less time had passed, is there recourse? Let's say 5 years after inventing something, you discover you could have patented it. –  just.another.programmer May 22 '13 at 14:01
    
In the US, you may get a 1-year period after which it will be considered prior art. Other countries, not even that. Filing a provisional application does give 1-year for filing the non-provisional (full) patent application, holding your place as it were. –  Ron J. May 23 '13 at 13:22

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