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I came up with an idea for a new product and began researching the process for getting a patent etc. Along the way I found that a patent existed for this idea. After speaking to the patent owner they acknowledged that this idea had never been brought to market (because of unexpected life changes). All the fees were paid to maintain the patent even though it was never used. This patent expires in June 2014. What are the laws regarding the use of an expired patent? Specifically, I know I can't sell or market this item before the expiration date, but can I start having them made and designed in preparation for that date?

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Making and offering for sale are also on the list of things one can't do. Designing is ok but testing prototypes might be making and using. If the patent owner is agreeable you could negotiate a non-exclusive license for a single payment fixed amount to make and use but not to offer for sale or sell (until it expired). Or a license (exclusive or not exclusive) to get going full bore. If it was exclusive and you move fast you could be selling a patent-protected product for a few months, it might be a good head start.

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